Sunday, October 28, 2012

Doc in a Box

Sometimes stories present themselves.

It was just past 11am, Sunday, a sunny, beautiful day. They were leaning against the railing that separated the sidewalk from the train tracks, a middle-aged woman with a sallow face and a similarly-aged man in a polo shirt.

"Are you from around here?" the woman asked. Her face was weirdly calm. She was holding her forearm at an odd angle.

"Uh," we said, but we stopped walking.

"I think I might have broken my arm," she said. Some part of me had instinctively avoided looking down. There, in the middle of her forearm, was an uneven ridge, three or four inches long, purple and swollen. It looked like an eggplant was sprouting from her arm.

"Our ride's coming," she said, nodding back to the street. Somehow I doubted that this was true. "Can you tell me where there's a doc-in-a-box?"

I didn't really know where to direct her--what exactly is a doc-in-a-box? I half expected to point to a dumpster and see a man with a stethoscope emerge. So many questions. I directed her to the clinic across the way and she smiled and nodded, cradling her arm closer to her chest.

"Have a nice day," she said.

We kept walking, and the further we got from her, the more I kicked myself for not getting the full story. They were positioned just so on the train tracks--maybe they had hitched a ride on the Starlight and she'd barrel-rolled out the side? And what had happened to their mysterious driver? Had someone dropped them off on one street, and they'd somehow gotten ensnared in some urban imbroglio by the next street? I could just imagine their driver, a flustered familiar, maybe a niece or nephew, rolling up alongside their aunt and uncle and sputtering, "But I JUST dropped you off!"

Michelle was with us and she pointed out that their clothes were not too soiled; perhaps they had not jumped the train but rather been jumped by someone. "That arm was broken hours ago," she said. "They had to sleep it off, whatever it was."

All the potential explanations swirled in my head for the rest of the day. It was Choose-Your-Own-Adventure reversing in my mind. Surely there was some simple explanation for it; she probably just stepped off the curb wrong. There was something to the very ordinariness of it all; as if this was the kind of thing one did on any given Sunday--leaned casually against a fence along the train tracks, nursing an arm the size and shape of a small eggplant.

By the time we had walked back at the end of lunch, the couple was gone. It gave me pause. Maybe their ride had come. Maybe they found a box with a doc in it.

Or maybe, they'd hitched a ride on the next train out of town. I think I hear it now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

On commitment

I've been to a lot of weddings recently. And I've also seen a lot of dogs.

We live by a dog park and every day when I bike home from work I see them, big and small, black, brown, and white, terriers and mutts and pit bulls and collies and purebred poodles, French bulldogs and scruffy chihuahuas with legs like sticks.

I imagine Mitt Romney driving with his dog on the roof of his truck. I wonder if that dog sees the world the way I do: leery of what could happen with his owner at the wheel.

I remember the dogs I saw in Chile; emaciated, scrappy things wandering the streets.

I think of the dog my father broke out of the pound when he was younger than I am now, and how, years later, he stayed up all night on our lawn, cradling Tommy when there was nothing else he could do.

I think of what our dog, this hypothetical, imaginary thing we call aimlessly around the house, would do to fill long afternoon hours. I measure the height of things in our apartment to see if tails would knock them over. I worry about how long it would take to train her. There's a narrative for her forming in my mind. I plan for her the way others plan weddings. It seems like these are parallel choices: here you are, making a decision that will dictate who you spend your time with, and where, and how, and just what all that means, and there you are, welcoming a living, breathing, beautiful thing into your life, making space for it where maybe there wasn't before, learning its tricks, eccentricities, preferences, vocabulary. It seems like the kind of decision you labor over until it is made, and once you are sure, that yes, this is person you want and need by your side, and yes, this animal belongs nowhere else as much as it does right here, maybe then you learn to accept the things you can't predict will happen. Because they will happen, with or without him, with or without her, and who knows how much richer your life could or would be.

The metaphor stops there. People aren't dogs, though I like to imagine that they are. Dogs can't talk; they can't rub your back or buy you blood glucose monitors when you lose them (again). They can't make the kind of babies you might someday want.

But they sure are awesome. Dogs, that is.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Termite church

I can't stop thinking about the termite church down the street.

I noticed the church the first time a few weeks ago, midday on a Sunday, when the carillon bells were ringing and a ragtag crew was huddled under the patio awning. It has a beautiful steeple, elegant and sharp, its tones resonant and comforting amidst the slight chaos and confusion of downtown San Jose. That first Sunday I figured that people were gathering to pray, but then I noticed that many of the parishioners had that same skinny lean to them, and that some of them resembled the regulars who spend their nights in the public park across the street. I half expected to see a friar breaking bread, his head bald in the sunlight. I wish now that I had stopped walking and gone inside.

A few nights ago Ryan and I went walking and I noticed a thick blue fabric wrapped snugly around the steeple. It looked like a giant band-aid, a gauze so thick even the glass windows were smothered in its red and blue. As we drew nearer I saw that the entire church was cloaked in awful stripes, the telltale advertisements for pest control hanging loosely to the facade. It looked like God had spun a colorful spiderweb around a church and left it to catch flies.

"Is this a sign?" I asked.

"It's a sign that there's termites," Ryan said.

I wonder if they pray. We kept walking but my impulse was to turn back, to get up close, to zero in and see if they were inside, thousands of small, fluttering, invasive pests, huddling closely together, praying. How did they know? Did they know? What was it about that old, bitter wood that tasted better than the buildings across the street?

Even now, days later, I wonder what the inside of that steeple looks like, with thousands of creatures turning ever inward, and what would happen if one day a divine hand pulled back the fabric and let them loose.

Do you think they would go?