Chairs

Cameron had his own easy chair in the front room. It was covered with a wool blanket. Nobody else ever sat in that chair, but it was always as if he were sitting there, anyway. His spirit had taken command of that chair. Old people have a way of doing that with the furniture they end their lives sitting in. — Richard Brautigan, 44:40

There was the chair in his study upstairs. Surrounded by books. Piled on the floor, piled on the desk, bending the shelves. To us it was for spinning. Round and round. A winter merry-go-round. Faster, faster, the room a blur, til we were so dizzy we stood and fell sideways across the sloping floor.

There was the one in the living room in front of the TV. The black leather recliner surrounded by pipes and tobacco pouches, books on the floor there too, watermarks on the side table from the highball glass. Bourbon on the rocks with the evening news. Here we lay on his chest when we could not sleep, breathed the warm smells of him with the sounds of Kojack and Columbo and Rockford in one ear, his breathing, his heartbeat in our other.

There was the chair that started the argument. Too big. Too ugly. Brown, teddy-bear soft, a fat throne for the king of the room. That chair started badly, but from that chair he read to us. And soon it was not his chair alone. It was Frodo’s chair, Gandalf’s chair, Bigwig’s chair. Huckleberry Finn, The Mad Hatter, they sat there too.

Sitting in the mother-in-law’s recliner on Mercer Island, WA he read his own future from the Seattle Times. Atomic veterans. Cancer. Thirty years after exposure. I sat on the floor beside the chair, listened as he read the article. I watched him as he ran the numbers on himself: Twenty-four years at that point.

There was the chair at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Green pleather in the shadow of an IV stand. He drove himself to sit in it. But after the IV bags emptied into his blood, he still had the pride, but not the strength to drive himself home.  I had a learner’s permit then. I took the wheel.

Then another brown chair. Fat recliner in his study in the house beside the bay. That chair didn’t match the décor, but no one cared. It was chosen for comfort and hope against hope. The chair never moved, but he slid away. That was the last chair.

Me and The Russian Guy

Russian GuyI walk my children to school. Every morning after I say goodbye to my kids, I cross paths with a Russian man who is walking his daughter to school. I don’t know that he’s Russian. I’ve never asked. But when he says good morning he sounds like all of the villains from the movies of my Cold War childhood. So. He’s the Russian guy.

This morning I saw him coming toward me along the sidewalk. His daughter, no taller than his hip, scurryied along beside him under the weight of her heavy backpack. She was talking and smiling and the Russian guy was listening. He’s usually listening to his daughter when I see him. I think he does it because he loves his daughter and is truly interested in what she’s telling him. But also it gives him somewhere to put his attention as we draw closer and closer to one another, walking toward each other on the narrow sidewalk. He knows I’m going to pin him with eye contact and say good morning. He knows I’m going to expect a response. I give off a vibe of expecting you to say good morning when I say it to you. I don’t think he speaks much English and our daily moment is, I think, a source of stress for him. I understand. If I lived in Russia and had to see him every morning walking along, confident in his own language, I’d sweat and fret too. I’d try to find something else to look at, some other thing to be engaged in so I wouldn’t have to say the words I wasn’t good at saying in a language I didn’t yet feel comfortable with.

The Russian guy was walking toward me. His daughter was jabbering. We made eye contact thirty yards apart. I loaded up a smile and a demanding good morning. I got ready to toss them to him when we passed and see what he would do with them. But just as we came together and the words were in my throat, a small Nissan station wagon buzzed down the street toward me and screeched to a halt against the curb. The passenger window was open. The pretty young woman in the driver’s seat leaned across the car toward the open window and as I looked she held out toward me a giant bouquet of pink flowers. This was the first time a woman had ever presented me with flowers while I was walking home from taking my kids to school. This was the first time a woman had ever presented me with flowers for any reason.

She wiggled the bouquet toward me.

I was dumbfounded. Speechless. My mouth fell open and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.

Then the flowers disappeared. Snapped back through the window like they were attached to a bungee cord. And the woman’s pretty face now bore a look of shock.

“Oh no!” She said. “Is for…” and she sounded like the wives of all the Russian villains from all the movies of my Cold War childhood. And she pointed at the little girl standing behind me now with her father, the Russian guy. dad-and-daughterAnd it occurred to me then that this morning was Teacher Appreciation Day at the school and all the kids had been asked to bring flowers for their teachers and of course this woman had not rushed down the street in her Nissan to deliver flowers to me.

I dropped my eyes, bent my face toward the pavement, got out of the way so the little girl and her father could get to the window and collect their flowers. I tried hard to avoid eye contact and hurried home. Tomorrow I’ll find a different route.

 

This Post Is Not About Baseball

Edgar_1

The Seattle Mariners baseball club has been terrible for nearly all of forever. But in 1995 they had a moment. They broke through, made it to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. Yesterday our local sports channel replayed one of the playoff games from that exciting season. Fifty-six thousand seattlites crowded into the Kingdome — now 14 years a pile of dust — and collectively held their breath as the Mariners fell behind, clawed back to tie, then won on a line-drive Edgar Martinez home run.

As the ball sailed over the centerfield fence the crowd screamed, then roared, then bounced, then hugged, then roared, screamed, danced and hugged some more. The camera panned across the pandemonious throng. Kids, grownups, old people. All agape with wonder at their team’s sudden reversal of fortune. They danced. They danced. They danced.kingdome

That moment is over now. Almost twenty years gone now. And the people in that crowd who shared that day: the kids are all grownups, the grownups are old and the old people are dead.