April 25th-ish, or whatever day it is…

It’s Monday, the people want Thai food. There’s a mysterious and annoying crack in my windshield that I believe has nothing to do with driving around town running Favors and making deliveries and everything to do with obnoxious, vindictive squirrels. An elderly man wanted a small number of grocery items, including olive oil and toilet paper. Earlier today the governor of Texas made an announcement about cautious steps towards furthering commerce. I’m not a fan, but I understand: there are counties in Texas, vast swaths of land, with zero cases of the infection. It must feel like a mirage to them, as those circumstances– zero cases, the opportunity for this pandemic to feel as though it could be a hoax– feel mirage-like to me.

The cats around town continue to make eye contact, telling me: Here I am, here you are. Here we are. We are here.

The evenings have been beautiful, a bumper crop of fireflies. Yesterday I watched a small blackbird chase a fat beetle under the canopy of a pecan tree; it seemed impossible that the bird couldn’t catch the beetle, and the beetle seemed as though it was fucking with the bird, but when they finally played their real cards, the bird nose-dived and the beetle got away… for now.

A different night, walking my dog, a kid on a bicycle who couldn’t have been older than thirteen approached from behind, politely swerving across the street to give me some space. As he pedaled past, I heard him say something, I assumed to himself. I smiled to myself, because it sounded like he said, “You have a very nice bootie.”

He rounded the block then returned. This time, he slowed down as he passed, slow enough to look at me directly and say, softly: You have a very nice bootie. The he smiled hugely, looked down at the asphalt and zoomed off.

The Runner Diaries: April 22

I ran many Favors yesterday to make up for skipping Monday.  Sometimes I double up and toggle myself “available” on GrubHub as well; the GrubHub runs are less constant/frequent than the Favors, and because they track my location (yes, creepy), it often works that I can accept a Favor food-to-go errand, call in the order to the restaurant, then accept a GrubHub errand nearby.  In the time it takes the first restaurant to prepare the food, I can pick up the GrubHub food (pre-ordered by the customer and usually ready by the time I arrive), deliver it, then head to the Favor restaurant. The GrubHub runs are often depressing, fast food for unhealthy-looking sorts in shoddy apartment compounds. It feels rather balletic, though, when it works out perfectly timed, to have two things going at once like that; a finely choreographed dance.

Yesterday after getting the kids situated I ran one late morning Favor to a grocery store, as I needed to shop anyway for my own house.  It was, us usual if I run morning Favors, a “grocery shop for a senior Texan” errand, but with an unusually concise list:  a six-pack of Shiner Bock beer, several flavors of sugar-free Jello, and a container of Clorox wipes.  No wipes, I had to text from the store, and the only flavor sugar-free Jello available was strawberry.  Better double down on the beer, then, was the good-natured response.   When I pulled up to the address to make delivery a couple waved to me from lawn chairs in their driveway.  They looked as though they were waiting to watch a parade go by.  “Something for you,” one of them said, gesturing towards two grungy dollar bills weighted down by a canister of wipes on a plastic folding table.  “The money,” the woman said, “not the wipes!”.  They cackled.

I went home after that to deliver my own groceries and deal with lunch for the boys.  They were going to their dad’s house for dinner that evening for the first time in weeks, an exception being made due to Laszlo’s birthday, so as evening approached I had no cares.  My boyfriend was stuck watching a Lord of the Rings movie with two of his daughters, loud soundtrack, the grunts of Orcs, a running commentary by the girls.   I was happy to escape into my car away from the noise.  I knew the Favor Runs that time of day would likely all be to-go orders from restaurants, so I switched on the GrubHub app as well, and spent a few hours traveling around the northern part of the city to different restaurants, fast food windows, houses and apartments.   I watched the light turn golden and the sky turn pink, sometimes through my windshield, sometimes in my rear view mirror.  It was shaping up to be a beautiful night.  I listened to music, singing along many times in a row with Johnathan Richman to “I was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar,”  trying to perfectly nail the lyrics, the scansion, the inflection.

A little after 8 I was getting tired, and the boys would be home soon, so I made one final run to an address near my empty yoga studio.  I dropped off the food, toggled “stop running” and pulled into the parking lot of the shopping center containing my studio space, surprised to see a few cars.  It appeared there was a Spanish AA meeting going on in a neighboring suite; I wondered how that worked, maybe a very small group sitting quite far apart.   I let myself into the studio, used the restroom, watered the indoor plant and the sage growing in a pot under the eave on the sidewalk.

Back in my car, I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  I hit the drive-through of a taqueria for a vegetarian mushroom taco on flour, placing an envelope of dollar bills from various old people into the gloved hand of the cashier.  “Keep the change, ” I told him.

A block away from my house I pulled over, not wanting my time alone to end.  I rolled down the windows, ate the taco in my car, then re-entered the rest of my life.

4/20/2020: Birthday in Pandemic

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My son Laszlo turned seventeen so I gave myself the day off from running Favor in honor of his birthday.  I did, however, go for an actual run.  As has been my routine of late I jogged around the golf course then headed south towards Eastwoods Park.  I walked around the park, wandered over secret bridges, watched a kitten play.   Then I walked home slowly, enjoying the sun on my legs.

On a street called Liberty I passed two children, a boy and a girl, playing a game.  They looked to be about five years old.  The little girl was parked on one side of the street, sitting obediently on a small scooter (“staying in her vehicle,” I realized).  The boy was on the other side, and had set up a little shop, with various items placed on the seat of a chair.

“Do you have any paper towels?”  the girl called across the street.

“Let me check,” the clerk responded.

Curbside delivery, of course.

Every year I bake a cake for Laszlo’s birthday and ask him how he would like it decorated.   One year it was Mordor, another it was a hammer and sickle.  This year he was understandably lacking in enthusiasm. “I don’t care,” he mumbled.

So he gets a COVID cake.  We will eat it in the backyard with a friend he hasn’t seen in person in a month.  I am terribly grateful to her father for permitting this to happen; it is the only thing Laszlo really wanted.

 

 

The Runner Diaries: April 19

Some stores have plenty of toilet paper, others have zero, the now familiar empty shelves, grubby in appearance despite rampant sanitization.  Some stores have only toilet paper that seems to have been imported from Mexico, four-packs with splashy logos involving bubble letters and exclamation points.  Oddly, they are always scented.  Manzanilla!  Lavanda!

I keep Googling “how to cut a shaggy bob”.  As with cooking, I read the recipes but don’t really follow them.  It’s more of a snip here, snip there, every few days approach.  Some days are more successful than others, but I suppose that could be said regarding much beyond my hair.

Yesterday’s Running was dullsville.  Groceries for seniors in the morning, fun food for twenty-somethings in the eve (sushi, Mexican).   Driving around the city last night, passing apartment complexes where I’ve dropped off food, re-noticing the same street names that took me by surprise the first time I noticed them weeks ago, watching the families on bikes, the couples walking, the lone teenager bouncing a basketball, watching the sky change from afternoon to dusk it all began to feel like a dream, repetitive, unreal.  I listened to the news in the morning but switched to music in the evening.  I was tired of listening to podcasts in the car, tired of reading articles at home.  Tired of other people’s thoughts; I wanted space to think my own.

My older son experiences bouts of depression.  One of his symptoms is feeling unable to read books.  An activity that used to sustain him and bring joy becomes a trigger, a foe.  This is how music has started to feel to me: frivolous, distracting, impossible.  But yesterday it somehow became possible again, and it did bring me joy.   Uninterested in the tedium of making decisions, I turned Spotify’s Early Alternative playlist, which pleased me.  Stuff from the 90’s mostly, some earlier:  a mesmerizing cover of “Lola” by The Raincoats, some Cocteau Twins, some Sugarcubes.  Johnathan Richman, John Cale.  Kate Bush.  Television.

Recollections from past Runs floated through my mind.  The grocery delivery to a fancy house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a gated community on the lake.  As I drove down the street, I realized my destination was next-door to a house my friends live in.  Their teenage daughter’s bright blue Prius, parked in their driveway, indicated her presence there, sheltering at home; her California college campus shut like the rest of them for the remainder of this school year.  I despise that house, it’s obnoxious, enormous and ugly, but the people are lovely and warm.  I recalled parties I’d attended there, kids swimming, sports on the giant-screen TVs.  Adults picking at catered hors d’oeuvres and bellying up to any one of the specially outfitted bars, standing dangerously close to each other–  touching, even, as they waited for another plastic cup of Chardonnay.

Another day, I delivered deli sandwiches (pastrami, corned beef, smoked turkey club) to a person I actually know, a man named Louis.  He’s a friend-of-a-friend; I’d been to parties at his house too, and swam in his pool.  In hopes of a better tip, I texted him through the app: Hey Louis, it’s Abigail, Annette’s friend!  Can’t teach yoga right now so I’m running Favors.  He texted back:  Come by later for a swim!  The pool’s heated.  Louis must not have known this, but like normalcy, these texts were ephemeral; our actual phone numbers are masked by fake digits, so the connection with the other human vanishes once the Favor is complete.

 

 

 

 

Running

This morning walking my dog I paused, observed the fat cashier from the grocery store across the street emerge.  The bottle fondler, I thought.  She’d definitely fondled my kombucha bottle …..

thought lost.  new thought:

driving around, it’s like being in a dream.  The streets melt together.

I pass places I’ve already passed, several times.   Like navigating through a dream.

Like in a dream, what is real?

The Runner Diaries: 4/16/20

This was a long and boring day of Running.   Many people wanted tacos.  The elderly  wanted Dover sole.  I phoned a customer from the aisles of CVS, confused:  what is Zim’s Max Free Gell?  “It’s zit cream,” she told me.

“Ah,” I said.  “They don’t seem to have that brand.  Would you like to try CVS brand Maximum Strength Acne Cream instead?  It costs $5.99.”

“I don’t have acne,” she snapped.  “I just have ONE zit.”  Right.

She repeated herself:  “It’s not acne it’s just one single zit.”  The way she spat out the word zit, with such disgust.  I felt a mixture of compassion and slight panic, as if her self-loathing might be contagious.

Later I needed something beautiful so I turned to poetry.  Glancing at the latest episode of the Poetry Magazine podcast at a red light, the title of the current poem seemed to be “They Killed Cows.  I Hate Them”.  I immediately thought of the film 1917, and was jealous of the idea that someone had written a sort of ekphrastic response to the killing of animals in the film by German troops.

I had misread the title, though, the poem was actually called “They Killed Cows.  I Killed Them,” by an Indian poet responding not to a film but to current events. Apparently there’s a growing trend among Hindu extremists to carry out acts of terrorism against butchers and ranchers who raise animals for meat.

So much for beauty.  I delivered another batch of tacos and called it a night.

The Runner Diaries: 4/15/20

In need of a trickle of cash after the yoga studio where I taught shut down due to pandemic, I signed on as an independent contractor with the company Favor.  As the name implies, the independent contractors do favors for the customers, generally picking up to-go orders from restaurants or running shopping errands.  The position is called being a “Runner”, presumably due to errand running, but in light of present conditions it sounds to me futuristic, daring, dystopian.

Today I logged onto the app at around 11:30 after getting my kids settled into their online schoolwork.  They ate late breakfasts, so I was able to spend the busy lunch hours running Favors for others.  It took less then a minute for my phone to ping with an opportunity, which I accepted.   This first Favor of the day involved ordering cookies from a fancy shop I’d never been to, then picking up and delivering to a house an eight minute drive away.

The cookie shop was the sort of breezy, preppy, summery outdoor walk-up counter you might find on Nantucket, or in the Hamptons, or in certain neighborhoods in Houston (in fact, it is the spin-off of a Houston establishment, I learned).  Steely Dan played from speakers mounted under the eaves.  My customer wanted six chocolate chip cookies and six sugar cookies.   It came to nearly $45 for the dozen.  The masked, gloved young woman behind the window handed me a bag that looked as if it might contain an elegantly boxed scarf or bowtie.  I stepped with it into my Kia, rubbed a generous squirt of hand sanitizer between my palms, and began the eight minute drive.

Listening to podcasts while running Favors provides a sense of purpose to the time spent driving around.  On this day I checked in with The Writer’s Voice from The New Yorker, and was pleased to see the two most recent episodes were readings by writers I really enjoy.  The most recent, somehow from an issue of the magazine that hasn’t even come out yet, was by Ben Lerner.  I pressed play and shifted into reverse as Deborah Treisman’s pleasant familiar voice introduced Ben and his story.

Listening to podcasts while running Favors requires patience due to constant interruption.  The navigation tool telling me, in stilted words, when to turn, what lane to get into, etc.  The Ben Lerner story was a little hard to follow anyway, and after getting chopped up by Siri it came across as extremely odd, disjointed, even surreal.  I was surprised and slightly disappointed by his voice.  I was sure I’d heard interviews with him before, that this was not the first time I’d heard his voice, but he read this particular story in what I think of as “poetry voice.”  A self-serious style of reading, a certain cadence, a predictability that I try very hard not to affect when reading aloud my own work.

When the magazine arrives, I will read his story in print, and I will probably think it wonderful, as I do most of his work (maybe all of his work?).

The second Favor was the type most common these days, a grocery errand for a senior citizen.  Favor was bought by a large Texas grocery chain called HEB, and they have a deal to help seniors not leave their homes by using Favor Runners to shop for them instead.  It means that at HEB or Central Market (the upscale version) I can flash my Favor order and Favor debit card and skip the line, rock star style.

This also provides me a chance to do my own shopping without waiting in line to enter the store; as I shop the Favor order I put aside a few items for my household, then perform separate transactions at the register.

George Saunders was my second listen, en route to the grocery store, from the store to the customer’s home, then back to mine.  His story was called “The Love Letter”.  It was easier to follow than Lerner’s, even with the chop, and I enjoy Saunders’ voice.  I used to play a video of his 2013 Syracuse University convocation speech (“On Kindness”) to the middle schoolers I taught, back when I was a teacher.

The elderly couple I shopped for were very organized with their list, placing produce together, pantry items together, etc.  The woman, Marion, was delighted that I was familiar with Finn Crisps, and that Central Market had all three types of fish she wanted in plentiful stock (no ground chicken, though).

It was a stunning afternoon.  Many people were out walking, biking jogging, some in family groups, some solo, some with masks on, some without.

The Saunders story ended at the traffic light at Lamar and 45th Street, so I drove the remaining few blocks home in silence, enjoying the sunlight, savoring the peace.