Pulling on the Leash
By William Franklin
Like the village of Santa Poco in Three Amigos, I too have a skill. I’m good at gaining weight while watching TV. I’ve got it down, it’s an art form and I’ll take my 40 days in the desert—or my 40 days of rain or my 40 days of purification by quarantine—sitting down. When I get up it’s to go to the fridge to eat a little more and pass the time. And if I’m feeling energetic, I can count the steps to the fridge with a pedometer. It’s ten paces to the kitchen, it’s two paces to the bread, and another two to get out the mayo and sliced cheese. If I can’t find the coffee filters, that can sometimes be another fourteen steps. That’s exercise the quarantine way and I’m getting plenty of it.
Yesterday I summoned my courage and went to Vons to risk my life shopping. I thought of Arjuna as I reached for the Cheerios and Joan of Arc when I tiptoed to the deli. Next, and not exactly triumphantly, I added milk to my cart and, noticing how crummy I felt breathing into my holdup mask, I decided to leave. I thought maybe my prophylactic luck could be thinning so I rushed to the checkout counter only to be told to go back about six steps. This isn’t Mother May I? I thought. This is our current version of real life. But dutifully, I went back to the end of the line I didn’t know about and couldn’t see very well, damn mask, and I went to a safer section of the aisle next to empty shelves of where there should have been Clorox. There, sheepishly, I waited my turn.
I actually risked my life twice that day. It was raining, which reminded me I needed a garden hose, and so I went to the Ace store on University. The perfectly helpful clerk went and found and handed me a 50-ft. hose and in the process, I touched his finger. I had exhausted all my bravery in Vons and I had none of it left when I was manhandled by this guy in a mask and apron. By “manhandled,” I mean that the tip of his finger touched the part of my hand reaching for the lousy and probably radioactive garden hose. I’ve been touched I said to myself. I’d been touched, I knew.
So, I’m letting you know right now that if the Thing starts closing in on me, it started at Ace Hardware. It’s not the ending I wanted nor does it have the drama I had imagined my ending might have. I thought maybe I could qualify for something somewhere in Sweden where maybe I’m pitted against someone in black around a chess game. Something good and final and directed by Ingmar Bergman. No, this was nothing like that. Nor was it like anything coming from maybe the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where the hand of God is reaching out and, in my case, reaching for me. No, nothing great and cinematic was in it. Just some clerk in Ace Hardware who hadn’t thought to toss me the hose or flip it over. He had to hand it to me.
Which reminds me of a thing we used to do as kids. Now it’s maybe important enough to be added along with the Ten Commandments. Number Eleven should read: Keep Your Cooties To Yourself.
When I was young, for Easter we would dye eggs and call them Easter eggs. Somehow, in my infantile mind I thought if we dyed them, and if they were hidden and we had to find them, they should turn into chocolate eggs. Why would we go to all that trouble just for any kind of milk man eggs? Why did we dye them? I remember really hustling to discover as many as I could so I could put them in a plastic grassy basket and take them home from the park and have a chocolate feast. But when I got home they were just hard boiled eggs with no chocolate to them.
At the time I didn’t know how to express my sense of the holiday rip-off very well. I do remember my mother thinking she’d gone way out of her way planning for the Great Easter Egg Hunt. She thought it was fun. We did usually have a bunch of yellow and light blue eggs nesting for about a week in the family fridge after that. Not sure how many steps that one was from the couch.