Day 4: I did write up a report for Day 3, but I’m not publishing it. It got pretty deep into some thoughts on the future and my sense of self-worth, prompted by a long conversation with Steve on Wednesday night, but a lot of it revolved around a contract negotiation for next year, so I don’t feel right sharing it. Also I worked with friends on a project I’m not ready to unveil to the world yet. So Wednesday was an interesting day, with the above and also with writing/reporting. I toured a Shoprite owned by Jeff Brown, a grocer with a proven track record here in Philadelphia of operating in food deserts, and I interviewed Jeff Brown himself. I was also scrambling to talk to sources for a story out of Baton Rouge, so I felt real reporter-like when a legislative aide called me back while I was driving back from Shoprite, and I found myself talking on speaker and taking notes at the lights. It’s Friday now, and I’m reporting on yesterday, Thursday.
Ten feet up the fence surrounding the baseball diamond, a hunk of tree branch clings to the chain-link mesh. Cling isn’t even properly the word, because the branch and the fence are fused, they’ve become one. I noticed it from my window Thursday morning. There’s a balcony attached to my office/our guest room. I can see the weedy pit in the sidewalk where the tree once was, and I can see the gnarled hand of the tree, vestigial, parasitic, sky-locked. The arborists must have decided it couldn’t be separated from its host.
Once there was a tree, and it hasn’t been replaced with a sapling like the other tree pits have, their still fragile bases wrapped in green plastic. On Thursday morning I noticed the vestigial branch and then the watermelon, cracked, spent and oozing on the sidewalk below. I’d woken early, and though I had less than three hours to get in an article by deadline, I was taking my time. In Seattle I used to rise on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 and write furiously up until my 9 a.m. deadline. Now my deadline is noon, and I’m trying not to start my days by panicking myself. I stretched, listened to a guided meditation — I used to be turned off by them, but I’m turning around — and when I saw that watermelon, followed the strange urge that told me to go out and photograph it.
Two people, a man and a woman, were walking their dogs in the baseball diamond. I approached gently, and snapped a photo I already knew wouldn’t be of much interest. But it had carried me outside. I walked around the block, past the stoop with the kittens, past Benson Park, which was still locked this early, but in which the fountain was still pluming, took a picture of two chairs outside an apartment building, and then circled back, avoiding the sidewalk closure on 5th.
At 11, article safely in to editor, I was supposed to start news blogging. But on my way upstairs, Steve wrestled me to the floor. I fought him, just a little, and laughed and laughed, throatily, in disbelief and total delight. I should be working, I thought. “I should be working,” I shouted it out loud. I kept laughing and laughing, but I didn’t go upstairs quite yet.
When I did, I tried to hold onto that feeling. The night before, Steve had rubbed my chest like he was trying to soothe and awaken my heart at the same time. I felt it there, throbbing. After three hours of blogging, I spoke by phone to a researcher in Baltimore whose voice just oozed compassion. I was so grateful for her.
I biked home energized, if hungry, and ready to venture out into the city with Steve. But I found him in a pretty foul mood. He’d been waiting for his brother to take a bus from New York all day long. It was nearly 5, and he hadn’t heard from his brother since noon. We rehashed the options: scold him, send him right back when he arrived, do nothing, give him work to do and a place to sleep and a sketch book as planned when he finally showed up.
I wanted to be supportive, and I also desperately wanted not to wallow. The cyclical nature of the conversation started to weigh on me, and I needed out of the house, into something constructive. We made our way — painfully slowly, to me — through some errands and then to a park on the waterfront where Sun Ra Arkestra was playing a free show. A dozen people in shimmering, sequin-encrusted capes and hats and robes were up on stage with saxophones and trombones and clarinets, making music that sounded like future jazz from beyond the stars. We were especially enraptured by a man who sat off the stage on a folding stool, studiously rapping on a cowbell with a seriousness of purpose only heightened by his flowing sequin purple cape. When the band started to play a frantic, interstellar song called Zoom, he stood up, and despite the crutch I’d later see dangling from his bicep, leapt into the air, again and again and again.
My heart felt swollen and full, and I wondered what role the beer I was drinking played in that. Steve and I had had dinner and a beer, Steve’s brother had gotten, enigmatically, in touch, and now we were relaxed. I looked around at all the beautiful people enjoying the band, the children dancing up on stage with them. How would I get to know them, this city? Would it be more difficult in a couple?
Walking back to the car, to pick up Steve’s brother and head home, we passed a sushi restaurant. Steve stepped inside to see the menu. But this was no ordinary sushi restaurant. “They call me Queen of Sushi,” the owner told us. She closes the shop Monday through Wednesday to teach sushi-making classes and holds open mic nights Thursday through Saturday. She loves music, and hates running a restaurant. Upstairs is a bed and breakfast she rents only to people she knows, and friends of friends, who stay the night and take a sushi class in the day. We loved her immediately.
At home, while Steve and his brother caught up, I put myself to bed. I finished reading the Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda. I’d already read A Separate Reality years ago, when I guy I’d slept with lent it to me in the morning. He told me he believed one should always return a book or pass it on, but never just keep it. He was pretty pretentious. I made a point of giving him back the book, and lent him one of my own, with a kernel of a hope it would keep him in touch. I saw him just twice more after that, and never got my book back.
The end of Teachings of Don Juan resonated with me deeply. Don Juan has been teaching Castaneda about using different hallucinogenic plants to learn and be taught. He teases Castaneda that he is partial to Jimson weed, which blinds those who seek it with ambition. Don Juan is partial to psilocybic mushrooms, which he says blinds seekers with fear. Castaneda admits, he is afraid of the mushrooms, and partial to the Jimson weed, and he asks, is it so bad to have ambition? How can one learn without it?
But Don Juan says it is not ambition that leads a person to know. It is the desire to know. This morning, still thinking on it, I heard the idea reflected in the meditation I was listening to. Feel your way through the world, said the speaker, and let knowing come.