Seen in Town, The Inner Landscape

Late in the Evening

I went to Trader Joe's tonight.

This was my third visit to the new Portland store, or rather my second visit out of three attempts. The first time it was insanely rainy, and I eventually found a parking spot. It was around 4 in the afternoon, which is clearly not the time to go. Next I tried going after picking Lucy up from school, on a slightly rainy day, but we gave up because she had a lot of homework to do.

Tonight, after Church Council, I decided to swing by on my way home. I think I had the vague notion that I would pick up some kind of late night snack, since I have to take RA meds in the evening that require food to be eaten at the same time.

Pumpkin bread You would have thought a pumpkin farm had exploded at TJ's. Everywhere I looked, there was every kind of pumpkin: canned, waffle mix, soup, cheesecake, even pumpkin ice cream. I was looking for the pumpkin muffin mix I bought on my first trip, but I didn't find it. Instead I put some organic canned pumpkin in my basket, and a box of cinnamon coffee cake mix, and a carton of turkey broth.

A sign by the front door invited me to discuss fresh turkeys with the butcher, but all I found was a display, with no obvious place you could talk to a person. I looked at the fresh turkeys (we're looking for one that is all-natural, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they taste better) and wondered what's up with the brining? I don't even know why you brine a turkey. I hope someone will explain it. I found non-brined turkeys, too, but clearly in the TJ's world, brining is preferable. 

I wandered up and down the frozen aisle, but I didn't pick out anything there. It was getting later, and I had no idea what I wanted. 

The wine department at TJ's is HUGE. A big sign invited me to buy a FRUITY! DRINKABLE! Beaujolais Nouveau. Given that I tried to buy one last year and was too late, I put a bottle in my basket. It was not a Two Buck Chuck. (Is that what they call it?) I paid the also-not-so-high price of $8.99, which would not have happened at Whole Foods. They claimed it's perfect paired with turkey. We shall see. #1 Son will have to help me decide. 

There weren't very many people in the store, but one of them was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He seemed incongruous, wandering around just like me. I guess I think of TJ's as a place for people like me, but what do I mean? Mainstream liberals with a reasonable number of children who don't mind being touched by people of the opposite sex except when they do mind it? Clergy with graduate degrees who worked thirteen hours today and probably ought to be in bed by now? Short women who grew up in the South but transplanted to the Northeast and proved winter hardy?

(It's possible I'm having a little identity crisis. )

Once the rebbe and I were in the pastoral services office together at the hospital, and I forgot the rules he lives by, even though I knew them somewhere in the back of my mind. I was looking through the patient listing to find a church member. I looked on the denominational lists for Protestant and Congregational, and somewhere I found my person's name, and I wrote the room number on a piece of scrap paper from the basket on the desk, using a pen the hospital provided. He was standing not far from me in the little office, and I got up from the desk, to make the list available to him, and without thinking, I handed him the pen. He looked shocked, really appalled, and I got away as quickly as possible.

When I came back to the frozen aisle, I found him holding a carton of pumpkin ice cream, no doubt contemplating the apparent pumpkin explosion.

I moved to the other side of the frozen aisle, gingerly.

Then he sneezed, all over the ice cream compartment.

I never found a snack. I came home and had some cereal that was already on the shelf in my kitchen. 

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Grief, Living in This World, Seen in Town

To cry

East End Beach  I took Sam to the beach Tuesday night. The tide was low, the sky heavy and grey, but there was no rain. The city felt like a woman who wants to cry but can't find the privacy to let go. 

We met a woman with a big, black dog, a Black Russian Terrier, bigger than Sam. She wanted to talk, not just because our dogs were both big — that happens a lot — but because she used to have two Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, the even larger though short-haired Swiss dogs that resemble Bernese. She wanted to talk about those dogs, how it broke her heart when they were gone. They don't live any longer than Bernese, I guess. She marveled at Sam's age, his apparent good health, now mostly thanks to an expensive series of Adequan injections he's been getting for arthritis in his elbows and a wrist since early June. She wanted to drink in his tri-colored coat and the gentle expression in his big, brown eyes, so sweet they brought tears to hers. 

She loves her new dog, but it's not the same. She couldn't bear to have the same dogs again, she said, because it "would have killed" her to lose them. 

I told her about Molly, about the the heart-quaking experience of having her put to sleep because she was in so much pain. Then I told her Sam and I needed to walk down the beach, because my heart felt like the sky, close to bursting with things lost. 

I hate to cry. People who know me well know this. Maybe it's because there were times in my 30s that I thought I would never stop crying. Maybe it's because I hate the feeling of losing control. Maybe it's because my mother taught me to keep things inside. Maybe it's just the type of person I am. I don't want to cry at the beach on a Tuesday evening, talking to a stranger, even about dogs. I want to walk down the beach and clear my head. 

Sam trotted along behind me, faithfully. Molly would never have done this. You could never be out with Molly off the leash and not be keeping a sharp eye on her. If she could have figured a way to flag down a ship or climb aboard someone's sailboat for a trip around Casco Bay, I'm sure she would have, and the people she met would have found her an absolutely charming companion. 

But Sam trots along behind, keeps an eye on me, to be sure I don't founder.

I have the luxury of a place to go with my private woes. I can close the blinds. I can tuck up on my big bed, and I can even pull the curtains around it if I like. Because it's on the north side of the house, it's easy to make it dark, to hide and feel safe from the view of the world, from anyone who might judge me or rank my reasons for being weepy as less than valid.

Even still, I hate to cry.

She caught my eye as we drove home from the beach, headed down the hill on Congress Street toward town. We had passed the light by the cemetery, and I saw a woman sitting on the bottom step outside the door to a shop, I think, crying. Her face was red, her expression one of misery. I only had a moment to look, as my car moved slowly down the block. She had long, brown hair, may have been in her late twenties or early thirties. Something was wrong with the picture, so I glanced at the road then back to her. Her denim shorts were in the wrong place, I thought, she had them pulled down closer to her knees, and before I could think another thought about why she might be uncovering herself (drugs? alcohol? mental illness? all three?), I saw the stream of urine.

She had no privacy, no privy, beyond those public steps.

And that makes me want to cry, too.


(Picture found at Reality Times, taken on East End Beach in July, 2006.)

Seen in Town

The Wind in the Door

Snow piled high along the curbs made parking anywhere downtown today difficult. I parked two blocks from the coffee shop, the closest I could get a space. The sun shone valiantly, but the weather here remains wintry. In brown fleece cape, grasped tightly, I crossed the street and hurried to meet an old friend.

We sat over a latte and a mocha, reminisced and looked ahead, sitting by a window. Grayer-haired, aging, we talked about children almost grown, friends who divorced, college financial aid and our careers. I named the relief of talking about church with a friend not also a colleague, much as I love the colleague-friends, too. She described the challenges of making a career in the arts, still

Outside, the weather grew blustery, and a sudden gust blew through the front door opened by an even older woman in hair grayer than ours. The crumpled napkins on our table flew away behind me.