Thursday, October 07, 2004

Shop for groceries on a snow day

LOCATION: Soulless Arlington suburb (take your pick) TIME: Ask the weather gods EQUIPMENT: Snow boots, $ for groceries OPTIONAL: guilty soul

I loved blizzards in my old days as a consultant driving to work - and not just for the chance to avoid another day inside an office, helping rich people get richer and feeling my soul slowly calcify.

Snow's sheer beauty, first of all. I feel silly trying to poetically describe what approximately ten thousand generations before me have also poetically described. But let me just mention a lacy icy filigreed bush underneath a steam vent, which was puffing clouds down to make a watery embrace between the melting ice of the bush and the condensing steam. Drops of water ran down the branches to freeze again into loopy stalagmites: gas to liquid to solid and back again. My friend Sadao and I stared for about fifteen minutes, then sprinted home to get a tripod for his camera.

I used to live near the Courthouse metro stop, a paragon of Republican urban design. The streets are very wide and friendly to cars, and all human interaction is completely sterile. Walking around, you feel like a frictionless Newtonian billiard ball that rocketed off the confines of the pool table into deep space, fast and straight. But when all those ugly cars are buried under pretty snow, people come out and walk in all directions; you can't tell where the roads or sidewalks or directional markers are. People are supposed to be at work, but they're not, so they feel playful, maybe a little bit like they're wearing costumes, and so strangers make eye contact and smile and crack little jokes in that way that strangers only are allowed to, here, when there's some kind of anomaly or emergency. (And we already know how much community tickles me.)

So during one blizzard I walked over to Giant, the only open grocery store. The aisles were full of happy strangers, dripping puddles of mud all over the floor, buying apple cider and popcorn. As I was standing in the checkout line, I heard the woman complaining about how tired she was. "I was one of the only people who could make this shift, because I live really close to here. I'm going to be at work for fourteen hours today."

"That's a shame," I said to her.

"Oh yeah, and it's tough to walk to work in all the snow - I have a bad knee, I had surgery on it three days ago." She pointed to the knee under the apron. She was a middle aged woman, fat, with a receding hairline. Her hair was blonde and fine and so thin that you could see through to her scalp. The harsh fluorescent light picked out all the grease and pockmarks and broken capillaries and cakey makeup on her skin, so that it actually made me wince to look at her. She was slightly out of breath in the way that fat people get, and I could smell the sourness of her sweat.

"Three days ago! And you're still coming into work! I hope you're getting some overtime."

"Yeah. And I've got to keep my job. I told my daughter that she could go to any college that she wanted and I have to be able to pay for her."

She told me all about her daughter, who was the best daughter that any mother could ask for. She was such a bright student and did all her homework and she had always been so good to her mother. And she was pretty and she had fun and all the boys wanted to ask her out when she went to parties. The people behind us in line were starting to get impatient (although not nearly as quickly as I'm sure they would have on a regular day.)

"Okay, well, thank you so much. Have a wonderful day and good luck with everything," I said. Even with the beatific smile that spread over her face when she talked about her daughter, I still had to stifle a wince when I looked at her.

She patted my hand warmly. "Thanks for listening, dear."

How varied our human life is! I was living in a young strong body, having experiences and sensations and ideas galore, and her whole life consisted of sleeping and standing still under fluorescent light in an ugly grocery store, bedeviled by pains from a broken-down body. And yet she was working for someone she loved, and felt that her life had meaning - and I, despite my abundance of physical and intellectual gifts, was adrift in existential confusion, squandering my talents at a ridiculous job. I read somewhere that God gives you only as many spiritual challenges as you can handle. When I've built up some more good karma, will I be reincarnated as her?


Blogger whizler said...

ACK...just to think. Living in this town for 10 years and so many fun things I've yet to do.

(m.p., Russkiy nye pomnitye?)

1:25 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

2:51 AM  
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