Betsy Shebang - Column for 8/21

Movin' On Up In My Helmet

God dammit, am I tired. Left the house at 6:30 Saturday morning to rent the van to move the furniture from Pacifica to Oakland. It wasn't raining in Pacifica but the streets were slick from the fog that never ever leaves the crest of the hill; the beach below can be sunny and happy while ambulances slow to a brisk walking pace when crossing over Skyline drive to avoid hitting any unnoticed stoplights or oncoming cars. In this moist misery the apartment gathered mold and a convincing sense of hopelessness and isolation. We were ecstatic to move to "Happy Sunny Oakland" (that's the new city slogan, replacing "Come Get Mugged!") into a 1920's building with hardwood floors and sunlight in several windows.

The relatives rescued us by helping load the truck and they all had to leave at noon for a class or something, after the mattress had made it upstairs and the boxes and stereo components filled the foyer of the building; so I made trips up and down the elevator while my wife kept watch and felt sick and met the new neighbors as they passed through one by one, like characters in a mystery novel introducing themselves in the first chapter. (None seemed like the murderer, but they never do.)

I drank soda and wasn't hungry enough for a real dinner despite the day's manic exercise, so I woke up Sunday morning feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. My eyes weren't focusing and I wanted to sleep like a rock wants to sit still, but I'd arranged to act in a play in Santa Cruz and I didn't want to let anybody down. Felt much better after breakfast, plus a box of cookies and quart of orange juice. The role didn't require much acting anyway: mostly I just crossed the stage in a tight t-shirt and pointed at people. Picked up more stuff from old apartment on the way home. Car-sized shapes of fog blew up the street like angry dogs that aren't there but still want to eat you. All my life I'd felt sorry for the people who lived there, and for the last year I'd been one of them. Adulthood is full of things like that.

Snuck out of work today to run by Target store to hurriedly purchase dust mop and bathtub drain plug thing before idiot boss noticed I'd gone. Found dust mop in Housewares section on first floor, next to endless shower-curtain section and racks of plastic shoes for preteen girls. Searched shelves of cleaning supplies five times looking for bathtub stopper and crap trap thing to keep hair out of the drain.

Followed diagrams from Housewares section on first floor to Home Improvement section upstairs. The departments of Target stores, see, are arranged according to Plato's divisions of the sexes: women clean and men protect and assemble, for men are dirty and women are frail; and only through the escalator of love do we find the bargain of union. I'd spent my whole life trying to be cheerful and sensitive when I really needed only to hang out in the shampoo aisle and not shower. My wife explained the whole thing to me this evening. How I managed to get her I'll never figure out.

Parked the car at Bart and entered train carrying canvas bag with dust mop handle sticking out. Stepped up into the Oakland dusk, donned roller skates and took off in the wrong direction, trying not to impale anybody with mop handle and feeling somehow safer in downtown Oakland to know that I could. Maintained high rolling speed for exactly this purpose. Asked directions. Tried to explain difference between MacArthur and West MacArthur to college student who spoke no English. I'd considered going straight from Bart back to my new apartment, eating dinner and making love to my wife, but opted instead for a rolling tour of the Oakland Hills, skating up and down in wide circles, reminiscing about long-dead relatives' neighborhood in Berkeley and how I'd get home if I lived there and I didn't know where I was going.

Found our street. Took off my skates and walked up the hill. Left the big plastic knee pads on my knees, partly due to laziness and partly so I could look like the retarded guy who has to wear a helmet everywhere he goes. Wore ill-fitting cardigan despite tides of sweat pouring off my forehead. I find people are less threatened when I ask directions if I'm dressed like a nerd. Gotta start wearing bike helmet when I go for walks.

Copyright 2001 Betsy Shebang

Columns by Betsy Shebang