June 4, 2011
I swear this really happened.
Yesterday afternoon in hot, sunny downtown Indianapolis, I sit outside on a break from work to enjoy the fresh air, however tempered it may be from the potent combination of soap and fabric softener wafting from the laundromat across the street. A young woman exits said laundromat and crosses the street, walking directly toward me. She is eating a fudgsicle and tugging a rather impish looking toddler with her.
“Hey. You know anyone with a baby?” She stands over me, looking down, where I sit on the curb. Her demeanor is chipper and it’s impossible to miss the brightness of the toddler’s eyes, the sweetness of his smile.I answer an embarrassingly slow negative: the question has surprised me. Normally the questions from strangers are of the “You got a cigarette/quarter for the payphone?” or “What kind of work is in there/They hiring?” varieties. There are very seldom exceptions.
“Well, the thing is, my baby just died…”“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry.” Horror. Pity.
“Yeah. Had to go identify the body today.” She says this in the exact same tone of voice I would use to say “I could use a coke.” Now, a stoic or even matter-of-fact expressionless I could have understood; anything other than the vaguely pleasant, rather casual method of delivery of what appears to be, to her, a small detail of her communication.She doesn’t really pause after this shocking sentence, but continues: “Well, I had just bought all this formula and now I’m stuck with it, so I thought if you knew anyone with a baby…”
Here, she pauses, bites off a piece of the fudgsicle, hands it to the toddler, who pops it into his mouth, stretches his arms over his head, stands on his toes, falls back on his heels and then covers his eyes with the upstretched arms just enough to peep disarmingly out from under, at me. Throughout the whole moment, he smiles his gift of a smile with immaculate little baby teeth, sticky face, and impossible good-natured perfection.
“Anyway,” the mother says, “I’m only charging 10 dollars a can, ‘cause I have to make my money back, so I just thought…” Shrug. Fudgsicle. And she and her toddler amble off away while I’m still sotto voce-ing between “so sorry” and “good luck” and some version of “how can I help?” and “what?”
Prospect Street is not well-named.
June 28, 2015
Sometimes I think the universe is just several sets of Tinker Toys and blocks and Legos and Duplos, thrown together in a jumbo Rubbermaid tub. It’s been dumped onto carpeting. Maybe cheap carpeting, I don’t know. But there I (or you) am (are). Building the bits of the universe into things with spokes that sort-of-but-not-quite-connect to blocks and Legos and you’re not sure what you’ve actually built. A palace, a spaceship, an Oreo with spokes, all of the above. The universe is a strange place and the building blocks sometimes match and sometimes don’t. I don’t know how one connects a Lego to a Tinker Toy to a Lincoln Log. Not without super glue anyway.
We try to make sense of it.
I try to make sense of it. But I’m not sure what I’m building. I like the scent of the parts (Lincoln logs smell comforting, always; the Legos, well, not so much). I like the smooth sensation of the rods and the wheels of the Tinkertoys (do they smell like cedar? I want them to), the comforting L-bends of the logs, the satisfying click of Lego on Lego.
It makes, well, something. But it doesn’t make sense. Ever. “Life isn't fair.” “No one said life made sense.”
So I try to take comfort from the scent of rain hitting hot pavement. The scent of freshly-mown grass. The color of lilies against hostas. The feel of cat fur or clean sheets or soft summer wind. There may not be sense. But there are always senses.
And there’s something to that, in its mismatched toy-set way. For that I’m grateful. But would a little reason, a little order, a little sense be too much to ask?
Ask the rain. The universe isn’t answering.