It was a beautiful day. Warm and sunny. For the past several months I hadn’t left the apartment much, and when I had, it was to see doctors or to go to physical therapy for help with my bad back. So I was looking forward to being outside and enjoying an ordinary couple of hours just taking a bus and doing some grocery shopping and having a look around.
On the way out of the building, Michael, the doorman, asked about the Memorial Day poppy that was stuck in my hat band, and we talked for a while. He is a veteran who served in Iraq as a Ranger and sniper, so I asked him if he agreed with what I had read about the movie I had watched over the weekend – The Story of G.I. Joe. It is said to be a full and accurate depiction of war. Michael hadn’t seen it. He had seen Full Metal Jacket when he was young, and it had inspired him to join the army. We didn’t get into why.
The walk to the bus stop made my back hurt, so when I got there, I was glad to find a seat in the waiting area. While I was sitting there, a man and woman approached. They might have been homeless. If not, they seemed surely well acquainted with poverty. In a loud, high-pitched voice he talked pretty much without interruption saying something I couldn’t understand. The woman sat down by me. She was shaking like she had chills and fever. I did make out in the man’s ramblings the name of Mount Sinai Hospital. After a bit, he handed her a crumpled dollar bill and some coins. “That’s every penny I have,” he said and turned his pockets inside out. Then he left. She added the money to a wadded-up dollar of her own and counted the coins. I gave her a dollar to add to her little cache. “Are you sick?” I asked her. She said she wasn’t. She looked up at me – she was quite small – and asked if I had one more dollar, I could give her. I gave her another and put my arm around her shoulders and wished her a better life. She got on the bus when I did.
In the grocery store, I found the cheese, olives, crackers, and smoked trout I had come for. (We were having my granddaughter and her beau for supper.) And I walked around for a few minutes to see if anything else caught my fancy. Under any circumstances, I enjoy grocery shopping, and since this was the first time I had done it in several months, it was beyond enjoyable. I took several turns around the barrels of olives before scooping up a mixture. Also, from the pickle barrels, I selected one “full sour” and two kosher dills. Selecting cheese was less pleasurable. The prices had risen quite annoyingly since the last time I had bought any.
Waiting for the bus home, the poppy in my hat band drew attention again. A man with an English accent asked me about the poppy, and that started a long chat. We began with the British observance of Armistice Day, moved on to the location of Buckinghamshire (his home), his great uncle who had fought in World War I, my ancestor who is said to have fought in the battle of Trafalgar, the celebrated histories of Anthony Beevor, the pleasure we had both taken hiking in the Lake District, the current state of British politics . I was saying something about Paddy Ashdown, a one-time leader of the Liberal party, when a large black woman in a floral dress, which seemed maybe to be West African, interrupted us.
“You’re using up your battery, ” she said. The light on my phone had caught her attention. I was so keen to continue the conversation with my new English friend that I fumbled unsurely in finding the off button. She couldn’t bear my ineptitude. “Give me that,” s he said and took it from me. Her highly decorated, very long false fingernails did not hinder her at all in pushing buttons, and she gave me a short tutorial in how to use my phone. The Englishman moved around in front of her, and for the next few minutes the three of us had a jolly exchange. When the bus arrived, they went to the only seats available, which were in the back. I sat in front in a section designated for the old or handicapped. I qualified on both counts.
When I got home, Michael, the doorman, was on the sidewalk in front of the building. He pointed up in a tree at a large nest where a bird was feeding her babies. He said the nest had been there since last year when a big “crow” had swooped down and eaten the babies. He was still watching the nest when I went up to the apartment. I took some Tylenol and lay down on my heating pad.
It had been a good outing.
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