Eventually I may forego the illusion that the ripping up of San Francisco streets is a temporary thing, that in six months or so they (whoever they are) will get finished. Cesar Chavez has a lane closed, as does Guerrero. The slow movement of Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin scores the crawl. There are the usual double parked delivery trucks and Moms dropping off their little beloveds who are forbidden to walk on the streets. Up ahead, somewhere around 16th Street, I see the intermittent flash of an emergency vehicle. Traffic is backed up to 20th. While I’m deciding whether to turn off at 18th, a maneuver that might take a few green lights and further bollox traffic, the presto movement kicks in, with its latent promise that we’ll get moving again. More than that, it is a testament that in all this mechanical bustle, this too-much-with-us world, there is incorruptible beauty, breaking the heart and making it whole, again or for the first time.
At 16th there has been an accident. A near head-on. A gray car and a red pickup. Someone was going fast. The gray car’s hood is crumpled. Lanes are closed in three directions. Two cops direct traffic, at first at cross purposes. Even majestic Bach can’t keep my impatience from bubbling into something like rage.
How about some gratitude. It wasn’t me in the gray car. My gray pickup is now rolling right along. And, let’s have a dose of perspective. If I had to do a single commute like Rita does most days in Nigeria from her house to the Centre, I wouldn’t have a feather of sanity remaining. Yes, rolling along now. Bach’s music is an oiled machine producing the sublime.
Crossing Market Street we’re back in the tar pits. On Buchanan where a massive development is rising a platform trailer truck is parked. Now we’re down to one lane and it’s every maniac for himself. I breathe. It occurs to me that a mindfulness practice is just fine when everything is going fairly well but when things get really sticky, I dive into anger and frustration. Is there really any need to hurry? I ask my swim students, can you slow that down? I ask myself, can you slow that down?
Fast, faster, moving to the music. The stitch of arboreal shadows dances through sunlight. We’re getting somewhere.
There it was, the first guest at the birdfeeder, perched on one of the tiny posts adjacent to the feeding hole. The feeder had been hanging full for three days and no customers. I was starting to wonder. The little thing is twisting its little neck to peck the grains. I get my binoculars. It has a dark hood, and non-descript brown elsewhere. It’s probably a dirt common bird but since it’s not a hummingbird, a seagull, pigeon or robin, I don’t know what it is. Not a finch, I’m pretty sure. No red or yellow breast. You can bet it’s not something intriguing like a grand tit or a dickcissel. Make that great tit.
Nondescript, I say lamely. I could take a picture if I had a camera with a lens and let the digerati twitter info. It’s cute, with its black hood, like a little Franciscan. Does that help?
Now there are seven of them them pecking through the mat of last year’s leaves for the seeds I broadcast according to the advice on the paper inside the feeder. It was good advice and I’m proud of myself that I read it and took it. Now none of the birds are using the feeder. If I were a nondescript ounce of feathers I’d prefer grubbing in the soft leaves and soil. Who knows, might be some protein in there. (Why did I buy the feeder?)
Maybe the bird is a vegan. There’s so much (everything) I don’t know about birds and I have an enormous urge to say, oh forget it. When I take down the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, I look at the pictures when instead I might read the section, “How to Identify Birds.”
Is it among the VAGRANTS or STRAYS FROM ASIA? Nope. Is it an ACCIDENTAL WARBLER FROM MEXICO? Nope. Does it chitter or chirp? Can’t hear a thing.
But maybe…yes, maybe, there, a junco. A lucky find. Good fortune is on the wing.
What shape of wing?
“It’s a do or die election for democracy in Nigeria,” Rita says. The election was postponed from February 14 to the end of March to give the incumbent more time to sway voters. He shows sudden interest in the conflict in the Northeast that has killed thousands and displaced over a million more. Trucks with his party’s insignia drive through villages and money get tossed from the truck bed. The villages are wallpapered with posters, villages that have no electricity. “The money spent on posters could have bought four transformers,” Rita says.
The incumbent’s allies hire protestors to demonstrate in London where his rival gives a speech. The organizer of the protest tells an inquiring journalist that she can summon a protest in favor of whatever he might want and whenever. How about a protest for the incumbent’s rival? Sure, no problem. Just pony up.
Meanwhile, back in the US, this Sunday morning headline: G.O.P. Race Starts in the Haunts of Rich Donors
I am starting to worry about the driftiness of the rain goddess. She shows up, leaves, forgets the way back. We importune, we cajole, we flatter, we dance and beat drums and she sleeps in. Yawns, and goes back to sleep. Another sunny day, absolutely perfect, rolls down the conveyer belt.
I put up a bird feeder, fill it with thistle seed. If a butterfly flapping its wings over Mount Kinabalu can affect the weather, will a flock of finches flush away the high pressure ridge?
Since rain incantations have lost their powers, how about this, from the Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik:
This weather has finished me off.
In this weather I quit my job
at the Bureau of Public Works.
I started smoking in this weather.
In this weather I forgot to bring home
the bread and salt.
I forgot I had this writing disease
and it flared up again.
This weather had finished me off.
She looks over her shoulder to the southwest, her hair flying in the wind. Rain is on the way. I give her a hose shower, washing the webs away, so she will generously reciprocate.
He has already begun playing two songs for his family and associates, he said. “I showed my makeup artist the other day,” Mr. Smith said, “and she burst into tears.” ———-from an article about the singer Sam Smith, in the New York Times
“What’s the difference between pathetic and bathetic?” Colette asked.
“Pathetic implies some sharing of suffering, some compassion,” I said. “Bathetic is sitting in the bathtub weeping because you have the most miserable, loneliest life of all.”
Bathtub. Sure. I bet Mr. Smith can dial it up in the shower.
We got talking about Roz Chast’s Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant, a graphic memoir about her parents’ aging and dying. “I don’t know why so many people write about these subjects now,” Mark said, “as if they were the only ones going through them. I don’t need to read about it. I know it in my own life.”
It’s what I feel about most memoirs, an irritation that someone is hogging the conversation. I avoid running with scissors lest I trip and be sliced into a million wild little glass castles. But then, I adored The Liar’s Club. A best book ever. And I loved the Chast book.
Pathetic. How did it get to be such a pathetic word? Hook it with em- or sym- and it shows its true nature, its power of connection.
Bathetic. Careful, Mr. Smith, you don’t slip on the soap.
persistently gives kleenex
a capital k. Ex-
cuse me! I backspace
and doggedly replace.
It’s truly an enormity
my allergy to conformity.
Someone got a Tissue?