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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Surreal Lunch

About once a week, I treat myself to lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. The food's mediocre and the service somewhere between impersonal and rude, but it's rarely crowded and they usually seat me at a booth even though it is just me and my book. One of the interesting features of the restaurant is the music they play. It's not the usual Lite Hits or even the oddly compelling Beijing Top 20. Typically it is some form of classical music. But not the other day. The other day it was people singing in French.

So there I sat in a Chinese restaurant, listening to French music and reading about American history. Multiculturalism at its finest. Also somewhat surreal.

After the meal, I repaired to other parts of the shopping center to get a bag of cat food and then some groceries. As I entered the pet store, I noticed a girl, maybe 10 or 11, reaching into the pen where they keep the bunnies. With her was an older man--maybe Daddy, but more likely Granddad--who told the girl in a voice that sounded exactly like Tom Bosely playing Mr. Cunningham on "Happy Days," "Now, that's it. A bunny. That's the kind of pet I can see you with."

That was an interesting observation to me, especially since I wouldn't wish a bunny on my worst enemy. (Okay. Maybe my worst enemy. Or the Vice President.) People forget that just because they're cute and cuddly that they are rodents and have the personalities of schizophrenics on crack. At least that's been my experience.

My next stop was the grocery store, and apparently "National Block Len's Way Day" had been declared. Every way I went, there was someone hogging the aisle, glancing around aimlessly, like hillbillies at the Louvre. In addition to that, my concentration was off, and I kept having to circle back to the previous aisle to get some item forgotten. It was self-imposed deja vu. On one of these deja vu excursions, my way was blocked by a lady who was examing the shelves of canned tuna. After careful deliberation, she selected a stack of eight or nine cans and slowly deposited them in her cart. After considering the gravity of her action for a short eternity, she resumed her contemplation of the canned tuna shelves, apparently absorbed in the deciding whether or not cornering the canned tuna market was a wise investment at this time. I swung my cart around and took my only escape route to the next aisle.

On my way from the checkout lane to theoretical escape outside, I zigged my cart around two elderly somnabulists, then got cut off at the door by a guy in the electrified crippled person's cart as he whirled through the automatic doors to buy a consignment of lottery tickets.

Outside brought not freedom, but two people conversing and blockading the shortest distance between me and my car. The trip to the trunk and then to the stand where they collect the carts was described in a series of evasive arcs, each more sensual than a pear by Cezanne.

Due to traffic, I had to take the lesser of the two available routes home. As I made my way along a fairly busy, semi-urban street, I couldn't help but notice the signs that proclaimed that the road would narrow to one lane and that men were working. It turned out that neither claim was true. Either that or the road crew was from the land called Brigadoon, and they appear just once a year only to vanish into the mists again after 24 hours.

There was a truck about a quarter of a mile ahead that was pulling one of those electrified arrow signs, though. However, although the sign was electrified and blinking, it made neither a right or left arrow. It made two diamond shapes, the symbolism of which escaped me. It might, however, have given my wife some ideas, had she been there.

A car did stop in my lane to make a left turn, however. The driver wavered and hesitated as each opening in the traffic sped by. The driver behind me pulled up too close, but made no move to get around me. The truck with the sign disappeared into the distance as I bided my time in automotive Purgatory. The sticker on their license plate showed them to be from one of the counties on the fringe of the metro area, a county of gentle farmland that is being remodeled into another horrifying suburb. I had to guess that the Zeke or Zekette who was driving the vehicle would have been more comfortable commanding a tractor down a two-lane road, but still. This is the city. Grow a pair. Take the damn left turn.

Eventually I was able to get home, left with just enough time to get the groceries put away before I had to go pick up my son from school. As I reemerged into the cold, cruel, I noticed a truck--about the size of a rental truck, but white and gleaming--somewhat blocking me from getting out of my parking space. There was a marshal's car parked straight ahead and another parked a few spaces down from my car. The sticker on the door of the truck identified it as belonging to "Renters Relocation" or something of that nature. It was eviction day in DeKalb County.

Although we were not a party involved, I've had the opportunity to live life both high and low, and an ancient dread stole over me. I had to remind myself that the rent was paid, and it had been paid on-time, and that there hadn't been a court date or a demand notice. And they didn't have me blocked in completely. Escape was possible.

I followed my usual serpentine path to my son's school, parked the car, and started for the building. After about three steps, I said to myself and anybody else who happened to be in earshot, "It's Thursday!" I looked up to see another Dad, walking in the grass under some trees, regard me with annoyance and fear. But he didn't understand. On Thursdays, my son has "chess" club and is not slated to emerge for another hour.

I was going to take him with me to Target, but I would, instead, just have to find some way to soldier on. No Yu-Gi-Oh cards, no bottles of Sprite.

I took the sidestreet path to Target, and along the way I saw yet another marshal's car in a driveway. Someone's possessions carpeted the lawn. And it wasn't a small lawn. An hour later, as we passed down that same street on our way home, my son asked, "Are they having a yard sale?" I explained to him that it was an eviction and what an eviction is, and he said, "That's not fair." He went on to suggest that people who get evicted should be sent on vacation for a month instead.

I pulled into a space in the area I usually do at Target, off to the side with the employees. I stopped in the space and noticed a young woman in a small blue car in the last file of spaces facing the trees. The car door was open and her blue-jean clad legs swung out. She held a small mirror and applied lipstick. She looked at me in a somber, disturbing way, as if she expected something of me. As I got out of the car, she returned her attention to her makeup.

I got the one item I needed and went to check out at the Express Lane. Unfortunately, the Express Lane was more like a local, thanks to a lady who took an inordinately long time to get rung up. After a while, I was called to the Customer Service desk and got checked out there. Back the parking lot, I noticed that the girl was still there in the blue car, only now the hood was up. She was still primping. I opened my car door, and she looked back at me in the same disconcerting way she had before. I couldn't tell if she wanted me to help or not. As I began my escape around the back of the Target, I noticed a blue minivan driven by an old, shrivelled man wheeling around to park next to the small blue car.

I arrived at my son's school just as Chess Club was getting out. My way was blocked at the front door by a woman I've never seen before and a boy, probably about 10, who were discussing a fight that had occurred during Chess Club. Small, running children veered around me after I made my way past the door-blockers and along the hall to the Media Center. I saw a mother I know at a distance. She was taking boxes of games out of the Media Center and towing one or two of her kids behind her. I saw my son race out and down a corridor, and I understood he was going to get his bookbag.

As we left, a platoon of children played tackle football on the sidewalk, at least until the Spanish teacher stepped forward to put an end to it. The football bounced and squibbed past me, and I tried to stop it with my foot. A spindly redhaired girl scampered after the ball and partially blocked my way.

We went home to the daily battle over homework. No one blocked the way.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of this engaging tale: "The trip to the trunk and then to the stand where they collect the carts was described in a series of evasive arcs, each more sensual than a pear by Cezanne." I am going to try to conjure up thoughts of the high arts next time I'm stuck in the mundane lane. Right now I've got a pimple like a Picasso on the side of my nose, which is embarassing at my age.

Acker Knee

Len said...

I know what you mean. Occasionally my eyes will look like a Jackson Pollock and there are some warts on my side that look like a relief map of the Aleutians.

Anonymous said...

Nicely nuanced account of a day in the life. Great line about the bunnies. I know people whose personalities resemble "schizophrenics on crack" ... they are only tolerable in small doses.

Anonymous said...

Len,
This was a great read. I had an afternoon in Arcata, CA once which I will never forget. It felt like a Twilight Zone episode and featured the song "Nowhere Man", dog shit and hemp necklaces. I'll have to write about it someday.
-Bernie

C.Potts said...

OucH! I felt your day, down to the tuna lady and chess club fights... Here's hoping tomorrow is a far better day.