bunt sign

Friday, December 7, 2001

As big and roomy as this house is, I still keep my storage locker across town filled with miscellaneous books and papers and old dead VCRs. The storage place is about a block from a big discount shopping area, so you can imagine how crowded the streets were this morning as I made my way over there. It took more out of my day than I'd planned on, but the traffic wasn't the worst of my problems.

You have to sign in at the office before they'll let you drive through the gate, and I never know how long it's going to take me to write my name on the list. The woman who runs the place is a talker. She's a really nice person, and I know almost as much about her as I would if she kept an online journal, but I always walk through that door believing I'm going to get into one of her neverending conversation loops, where she tells me the same thing six or seven times, adding details and embellishments and points of view and rhetorical flourishes as we go.

Fortunately (or so it seemed at the time), there was a line of customers, so I signed in — name, time, license plate number — and ducked out. All I wanted to do was pick up the rest of my Christmas stuff. I wasn't sure how much wrapping paper I had left over from last year, but I want to use it before I buy this year's version (which I'm guessing is probably decorated with flags and wizards).

Well, here's where things went wrong. After I left the office, I got in my car to drive through the gate and around the concrete block buildings to the stairway that leads up to my dinky little cubby. I probably could fill one of the garage-sized lockers with the sliding overhead doors, because I can fill almost any space with junk. I've always been a packrat. If you want to see the ninth grade English paper I was writing when JFK was assassinated, or the freshman handbook they gave me during orientation at UCSB, I'm pretty sure I could find it. It would take a dig of Leakey-esque proportions, but it's there somewhere.

So I rent a smaller unit just to keep myself from accumulating even more debris that someone is going to have to dispose of some day. But I couldn't get to it, because for the third time this week my car refused to start. It's beginning to make me take seriously the people who think I should junk the old (1988) Honda and get a newer model. But it's had this little quirk almost the whole thirteen years I've driven it. If I wait two minutes, it nearly always starts.

And it did, except that by that time someone had parked in front of me and to the side of me, and I had to squeeze out backwards and ease my way around all these other vehicles to get through the gate (which mercifully was still open). I drove up to the stairwell and turned off the motor. That's faith, baby. I knew it would start right up again when I was through dragging my stuff down the stairs.

And so it did! I made just one trip, because all I had was one large bag of wrapping paper (snowmen and Santas, no wizards). Then I got back in the car, started it up, and drove back to the office to sign out. I left the engine running because I was just going to run in, initial the sign-out sheet, and run out.

Hah! "How are you feeling?" I asked my friend behind the counter, remembering that she was recovering from a heart attack when I was there last spring. Well, don't you know, I spent the next half hour hearing about her adventures with triple-bypass surgery, and fluid in her lungs, and how awful the HMO was to her, and how she didn't trust her cardiologist and changed doctors, and how the recovery took six months because they wouldn't listen to her when she told them what was wrong. And I nodded supportively, and exclaimed in sympathy in all the right places, and told her how good she looked.

And all this time my car was idling in the parking lot. I was going to have to interrupt her, or the roof was going to have to cave in, or my engine was going to have to become engorged in flames. Otherwise I'd have been there still. Other customers came in, signed out, and left, and she was still telling me about how her daughter-in-law the nurse had to help her get her medical records from her former doctor, because he wouldn't give them to her. Finally someone who needed to talk to her (in order to do actual business!) came through the door, and I wished her happy holidays and left before it could close again.

Maybe I'm lucky I left the car running, because it didn't seem to have come to any harm, other than wasting a few gallons of gas. I didn't make any more stops on the way home, partly because the day was half over but mostly because I wanted to be sure to get home. Which I did. But I sort of needed a nap by then. For some reason, I was exhausted.

bird in tree

Bird in the bare branches of the birch.

I'm still not worried about my car. It's old, but so am I. It still runs most of the time, and guess what? So do I.

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One year ago: Light Creeping In

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