Okay, okay, so the eff-ing dresser is still there, which not only means my dad was right (don’t let it go to your head, man) but that we still have to deal with the dresser. Sigh.
When I was 16, I dated a Mormon guy – let’s call him Glen. Glen was one of four Mormons I dated (not all at the same time, of course – I think the Mormons reserve that privilege for the men, and only in marriage) and he was an ambitious guy, already taking coursework at the University, for example, even though he was still a senior. Another of his ambitions was to find himself someone who’d make good wife material. How it was that he saw that in me I do not know.
We did the usual dating things, going to movies, going to dances, hanging out and the like. Occasionally he’d ask me if I finally felt we’d dated long enough to consider him my desired life partner and I’d look askance at him and we’d move on to another topic.
One day, Glen showed up with a couple of his friends and said they were heading down the street to shoot some baskets and would I like to join them. My non-prowess at basketball is legendary in some parts, and I declined on account of cramps. But I said I’d come and watch anyway.
A well-kept secret, nestled among stories about PMS, bloating, and cramps, is that another hormonal experience can occur in women that, while infrequent and unreliable, confers upon a woman a feeling of serenity and calm that rivals that embodied by the Dalai Lama. As it happens, I was having just such a nirvana experience that day. So rather than bristle at finding myself in the female-observer-to-male-action role (which normally would have led to my either joining them or leaving), I sat at the edge of the basketball court and watched the guys play and posture. I was blissed out, in love with the deep ping of the ball, the screech of sneakers that came to a halt and pivoted, the slick sheen of the sweat, and, even, with Glen. From this place of Big Love, I realized maybe I should marry him.
Simultaneous to being blissed out, I had the awareness that I was. And I realized this serene feeling was absent 99.999999999999999% of the time in my relationships with boys. It’s not that these relationships were contentious exactly. But they were often fraught with uncertainty, resistance, calculation, and angst. Now, I was weepy with relief that this usual burden had lifted. I felt I would give anything to stay in this sweet, compliant, loving state. Sure I’d become more boring as a result, but it would be worth it.
I could understand spiritual seekers who dedicated themselves to years of meditation or yoga just to increase the odds of spending more time in this place. I had compassion for the drug takers who only wanted, just one more time, to feel this warm absence of striving and presence of the All.
Sad to say, the chemical cocktail lifted eventually, to return only at its whim and not nearly often enough. I went back to my usual state of being, something more familiar to me, edgier and weightier. Time passed and I broke up with Glen – or he broke up with me, I can’t remember which – and he went on to become a 2012 presidential hopeful.
A couple weeks ago, I went to pick my 13-year-old up from camp. Several parents arrived early, and we hung out on the front lawn waiting to get our kids. When I arrived, two moms were already engaged in conversation. They both looked to be about the same age, but they had decided to age differently from one another. The first had short-cropped gray hair, glasses, a nose ring, visible tattoos across her shoulders and wore Birkenstocks and a shapeless sun dress. (I couldn’t quite get a handle on her Look: was she going for hippie or Way Cool Tattooed Oldster?) The other had long wavy hair dyed dark blond, and straight, white teeth, was dressed in a women’s-cut white t-shirt and jeans, and wore thick mascara (somewhere between the amount I wear and the amount Tammy Faye Bakker wears). She was also trim in a way I associate with women who prefer to diet rather than jog or join a gym. It was clear that, in the short amount of time they’d known each other here on the lawn, these women had found several things to disagree about.
The gray-haired one complained about her daughter’s school district, and the blond one happened to work for that school district. Then the gray-haired one said they were moving away anyway, moving to Florida. The blond said that, wow, this was a hard age to make a kid move. The gray–haired one shrugged, then said they were moving because a friend of hers said they could come live with her for free, and who wouldn’t move somewhere if someone else was paying the bills? The blond blinked, then shared, as if to extract herself from this conversation, that a friend of her daughter’s had died while she was at camp but she, the mom, wasn’t going to tell her daughter right away.
It was at this point I realized I didn’t like either of these women. In fact, I actively disliked the one’s mooching and lack of sensitivity about how her daughter might not want to be dragged across the country so mom didn’t have to get a job, and the other’s use of a tragedy to gain conversational ground. I wanted both these women to stop talking and preferably to leave the premises immediately so I didn’t have to even look upon them.
This was an unusual moment for me because usually my dislike operates under the radar. It can be so subtle that I don’t even notice it. I don’t think it broke through here because these women were particularly egregious. Maybe the caffeine from the green tea I’d had that morning was wearing off. But more likely it’s that I’m on the lookout for evidence of chinks in my armor (and so more likely to find it). I have become too invested in the idea that I am a good person – or maybe just too invested in the idea that being a good person means one doesn’t have mean or petty thoughts occasionally.
If bravery is feeling scared and acting anyway, maybe goodness is having small-minded thoughts but still doing the right thing. I want to find out if this is so.
Friday night, Garth and I returned home from dinner to find a man in front of the Free Bench, sorting. He had the kind of white hair that is often compared to milkweed, delicate and soft-looking. It hung to his shoulders and his beard was white, too. He stood near his bike and wore a brocade shirt that would not have been out of place at a Renaissance fair, knickers, and silvery flip-flops.
He asked if the Bench was ours, we explained it was but that the stuff on it at the moment was not. We said we hoped he was finding some good stuff and he lifted a foot. “I have already. I got these here yesterday. Say, I was just down at the park for the Food Not Lawns potluck. Do you know about that? Do you have a garden?’ Garth said we did have a garden but didn’t know about the potlucks. “It was a lot of fun. I just now left but they were doing mirror yoga for awhile. Do you know about that?” He put his hands in front of himself and indicated that Garth should put his own hands out. They grasped hands and then moved in a way that reminded me more of Indian wrestling [sic] than yoga.
“Lemme see, I’ve got something for you here.” He patted his pockets like Columbo and came up empty. “Oh, well, do you like seaweed? I have some nori. Would you like a sheet of nori?” We tore off pieces of nori while he returned to the garden question. “What have you planted?” Garth said potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. “Those are all nightshades, aren’t they? What makes them nightshades?” We said we didn’t know. “Well, then, there’s my next project: find out what makes a nightshade a nightshade.” He pushed off on his bike, gave a wave and pedaled down the street.
I can make nothing Meaningful or Mystical out of this encounter, except to suggest that there is something meaningful about any human encounter where there is an exchange of good will.
Today, someone left a large dresser at the Free Bench. By “large” I mean as tall as my 11-year-old and five times as wide. If it had had any drawers, there would have been seven. But it was completely without drawers. Not a one. Just seven drawer-shaped gaps. It is one toothless dresser.
Whoever left the dresser positioned it such that it faces the Bench and faces away from passers-by. This is a curious choice. Did they think that someone driving by who needed a dresser and saw the back of this one would come bounding up to it in delight and, upon only then noticing the significant absence of drawers, decide, well, it was still too fabulous a dresser to pass up, even without something we usually consider an essential aspect of dresser-ness? This Free Bench Depositor was a pro at the ol’ Bait and Switch.
I have to say, though, truthfully, that sometimes the entire Free Bench feels like a Bait and Switch. There are times when its promising-looking boxes, looked at more closely, contain the lid and grater attachment to a food processor but no control board or bowl, or disgorge sparkly swathes of material that turn out to be so mangled you’d be lucky to make a halter top for a Barbie doll with what’s still usable. Of course, the really crazy thing is that, most of the time, even these suspiciously trash-like items do eventually go.
My dad is convinced that this dresser will linger and Garth and I will eventually have to lug it somewhere ourselves (i.e., in the dead of night to the apartment dumpster next door). I, on the other hand, think the dresser will go. Time will tell.
All this to say that, as you venture into Blog-land with me, it is my hope that most of the time, when something catches your eye enough for you to take a closer look, you still find it satisfying upon closer examination. Welcome.