I have $64 left in my checking account…not the worst that it’s ever been, but it’s supposed to be ten times that amount, by now.
Another glance at my email to see that there’s no update from the client on fulfillment of my invoice, and I decide I’d better get out and go for a walk.
Today was the first since arriving in Portland that I’ve seen the sun. It actually shone through the north-facing window for about ten minutes this noon–my skin thrilled at its touch, the hairline wrinkles that I’m always trying to smooth with argan oil deepened in appreciation.
Nevertheless, it’s colder than it’s been all week–the fog apparently acts as insulation. So when I get to New Seasons Market on Division Street, my fingers are red and bereft of sensation, and I’m seriously rethinking the purpose for which I came.
(To buy kombucha, you guys. Obviously.)
On the corner there’s a man with a shopping cart piled high with whatever it is people pile shopping carts with when they’re unable to pile them with food. He’s wearing a scraggly beard and a camel overcoat, and his sign says “Anything Helps.”
I’ve been having a hard time with the homeless thing lately. This whole year, in fact. I feel this burning connection to them that I’m too ashamed to act on. If I was in their shoes…like really in their shoes, not just feeling a connection…would I want to talk to someone like me? Especially outside a grocery store?
Put it this way–I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my frustration today, except perhaps for the client who owes me money. And even then, I don’t want to just talk to her.
Last summer, I made a deal with God that I’d give a needy person whatever they specifically asked me for. It’s been a strange experiment, that has at various moments required of me twenty-five cents and forty-five cents and Quarter-Pounder with no onions and ten dollars’ worth of gasoline. It’s introduced me to Mark in New Mexico, and Perry in Denver, and that man on the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s been a pretty decent guide.
But this man’s sign says “Anything.” Seeing it, I think yeah, sometimes it’s just like “Where do I begin?” That’s how I feel about praying, lately. You ask and you ask and you get no answer, until finally it’s like “I’ll take the crumbs that fall from the table, if you’ll only be so good as to let them drop.”
“Screw it,” I think, as I walk past him and into the warm rush of air behind the automatic doors, “I’m breaking my rule, and I don’t care if I do only have $64 left.”
The entrance to New Seasons is like a traditional English hothouse, an orderly jungle of tea roses, coffee berries, spider chrysanthemums and decorative cabbages. The sight of it is superimposed in my mind over the man in the camel overcoat, and I’m ready to throw rocks and put heads on poles. And yet we need beauty, in this world, don’t we? That’s what I was thinking earlier, before I went out for a walk, as I scrolled through my blog and looked at all the things I’ve been producing that no one seems to have seen…or, at any rate, to have seen any value in.
I make beautiful things that no one wants; what right do I have to be so angry at a display of flowers?
I find my kombucha and then I head to the bakery. What would a grown man want on a cold afternoon?
…that I can afford?
I buy an oatmeal cookie and a cup of coffee. That, with my kombucha, sets me back about $6. Three and three. That’s okay…if God provides for the birds of the air…
The man in the camel overcoat is gone from the parking lot.
I walk back and forth across the parking lot, looking this way and that, because what does it matter how much more of an idiot I look like?
Now I have a cup of coffee I don’t want, and a cookie I don’t need, and now my hands are full, so that I can’t put them in my pockets during the twenty-minute walk home.
I’d tell you what I was thinking, but honestly, there wasn’t anything. At a certain point, you stop thinking, or even feeling, and just try to protect your head.
I reach into the bag and take a vengeful bite of the cookie. It’s like sawdust, which is no reflection on the New Seasons Market bakery–it’s more to do with my state of mind.
I’m not drinking coffee these days, but I throw back a swallow, anyway.
…It tastes wonderful.
Which…I’m not sure how to explain that. I’m not into coffee and, despite trying, never have been into it. The last coffee I truly liked was the Nescafé that I drank in Dominica, and that had more to do with Sandra Cooles’ “local chocolate” cake that I dunked in it.
If there’s something I’m supposed to take from this experience, I don’t know what it is and even if I knew, I don’t know if I’d accept it. I didn’t want coffee and a cookie–I wanted the money I’m owed and I want my car back from the mechanic and I want all the things that I’ve forgotten by now, because I’ve wanted them so long that I don’t even have to say their names when I ask, anymore.
But…something. Right? This meant something. Otherwise none of it means anything, or ever has.