I spent a fat chunk of my working day talking to one of my small and select readers about how I have no life. The strange thing about my having no life right now is that I don’t mind terribly most of the time, I told him. I’ve got enough to do and the difficulty is making time to do it.
The last two weekends have had imperatives related to Mrs. G., my neighbor across the hall, as in “Ha ha heh heh hoo hoo ha ha hah ha haaaaaaa! Whoooweeee!” that Mrs. G. The weekend before this we had a little hospital run because of her back pain. Although she was in awful pain she made me laugh by telling me this story about the downstairs neighbor D, with whom she has resumed cordial relations after a lengthy hiatus. The hiatus followed the famous scene when Mrs. G. saw D. in the hall without her wig: “Girl, I had no idea that woman was balt haided!”
While the EMTs were figuring out how to get Mrs. G. down the stairs (she’s a heavy woman and was in a lot of pain) D. entertained us all with stories about a pain she was experiencing in the bottom of her foot.
They kept Mrs. G. for a couple of days, and since then she has chosen to have surgery to fix her back. Meanwhile she’s on good pain meds which makes her even more jolly. She demanded a hug from my dad the last time she saw him. And on Saturday she said we must go to the fruit stand again. Mrs. G. loves the fruit stand. We went there for the first time about this time last year and got all these peaches. We went up there again but all the peaches were gone so we got apples instead. Now, Mrs. G. has this big nice van with a handicapped sticker and drives all over the place in it. She’ll load people up in it for some church outing and be off in the wilds of Virginia at all hours. She crisscrosses the DC area visiting various relatives and doing little kindnesses and errands for people. But when we go to the fruit stand, which is maybe five miles away, I have to drive the van. This time, to my surprise and delight, we brought D. along too.
Mrs. G.’s church is about halfway between our apartment building and the fruit stand. It’s in a little village that used to be one of those areas where black people were consioen of those black towns. The church is a rather ugly modern affair but it sits on a nice piece of land, and next to it is the pastor’s house, donated by the state, according to Mrs. G., under some sort of history or culture grant. I’ve seen some of these people from her church. The leading quality when they are all together in a group is gentleness. They have a sort of old fashioned formality of manners and an intimate, easy acquaintance with the Lord who they are sure will work things out for the best sooner or later.
As we continued west into rural Maryland she was telling how some members of her church grew up here when these roads were all dirt. How quiet it was, how dark the nights were. Back in those days you didn’t have toilets or electricity.
I told her how when my father was working his way through college in the 1950s he was selling magazine subscriptions or something door-to-door. He went into a house in Washington DC that had a dirt floor. He swam at segregated beaches. When my mother was here in June we took a drive out this same road and she marveled at how pretty it was, it’s really a bucolic paradise out here, just unbelievably pretty with these lovely rolling hills and meadows and fine old farmhouses. “I had no idea all this was out here,” my mother had said. My parents met when they were both living in Washington DC. “Didn’t you ever take a drive out here in those days?” I asked her. “Good god, no, it would have been dangerous.”
“That’s right,” said Mrs. G. “You stayed in your house.”
You stayed in the house to avoid mischief. You didn’t want to be caught out at night. It was dangerous for a black person to be out and about at night. At night you didn’t even want to go outside to the outhouse, “You had your slops in those days,” she said, with a laugh.
D., who is from New York, had not experienced this sort of thing.
We got to the fruit stand and I bought peaches, yellow squash, fresh lima beans still in the pod, zinnias, nectarines, sweet corn, a melon, and tomatoes. Also available was milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania somewhere, and I drank some of that and it was excellent. Local goat cheese, which Mrs. G. regarded with profound skepticism.
On the way home Mrs. G. talked about men. When Mrs. G. goes out into the world, you know, she is always dressed up, she has a flawless sense of style, never overdressed, she looks like everybody’s mother. She’s quite tall, so she is, as the saying goes, an imposing woman. She was talking about the couple on our floor who split up and moved out. Apparently he was playing the jealous control freak and fooling around. “Kick that sucker to the curb!” says Mrs. G. Then she explained her theory of child support. “Do he have a key to your house, is he coming and going in and out of your house whenever he want? Awww, sheeee it.” That last expression is her feeling about the passivity of women who put up with being played by men.
When I got home I was starving and made a salmon sandwich, then I went back for another slice of tomato, then a couple slices more, then a couple of slices more. After about my third trip back to the kitchen I realized I was having one of those tomato-eating experiences that make people complain about all their other tomato-eating experiences.
Aside from the Ultimate Tomato and the laughs, I am glad that D. got to come along on a little pleasure excursion. She sits alone in her apartment with her cat a lot of the time, I don’t know what she does with herself all day – except for the pain in the bottom of her foot she seems to enjoy perfect health. But she never goes anywhere.
She is sort of a boring person. She talks about the weather. She talks about the pain in the bottom of her foot. She talks about her car. These three things provide an inexhaustible supply of petty complaints, for which despair of any resolution is the primary assumption going forward. Oh, and the other thing she says often is that she’s thinking about moving back to New York because it’s too boring here. She’s been saying that for years, according to Mrs. G.
I am glad she and Mrs. G. are patching up their differences because Mrs. G. is able to take these slim conversational materials and spin them into gold. Like this one she reported to me a few weeks ago, when D. called and asked if she had a spare onion to lend.
Mrs. G.: No, I'm all out of onions.
D: You sure?
Mrs. G: I ain’t going lie to you about no onions, baby.