Lying on one of my several desks is a fifteen-page application that, once completed by me and submitted to the proper bureaucrats, will change the course of my life. Paperwork and living sometimes seem synonymous in this strange new world. Bureaucratic structures are nuisances that must be tolerated by us little folk.
I should pick up my pencil this moment and get to work scratching out a first draft of this latest manifesto regarding old age and lack of foresight on my part. But worry holds me frozen; so I’ll wait until this coming weekend when I can seek the help and comfort of someone who loves me sitting by my side to say “Yes, that’s right. Now on to the next page, on to the next day, the next year, the where and when still to be determined. Just move the pencil point and still your voice, my love.”
Between now and then, I’ll travel to yet another hospital for another medical procedure, followed by another anesthetized appointment with yet another doctor. News and numbers, all similar intersections on a graph, and none encouraging to this anxious mind I own. The scalpel seems held by the wizard who lives at the end of this road.
Oftentimes I wish that I could write and speak in tones stark and blunt, and so seem more appropriate to this twenty-first-century carpet of interwoven threads that makes for wild communication. But I’m not built for stark and unembellished, not ready for the plain and unadorned. Perhaps after the application is completed and relinquished from my grasp, the results confirmed and irreversible, this confusion I must abide resolved; perhaps then — if I’m still living — perhaps then I’ll write the truth without the syllables that now cover secrets.
This morning, after blood was drawn from my veins by a young woman who cannot realize the role she plays in my life once a week, I sat down with an apple in the sun. Green apple, tart flavor, heat upon my skin. Red flesh covering my closed eyes.
I bit, chewed and slurped as I tried to recall a summer’s day when I was a boy, lying on green grass, staring at puffed-up clouds overhead hanging in a clean sky. Suffering and violent turbulence lived inside the house behind me; but for a short while I escaped, long enough to listen to an airplane’s propellers as they fluttered in the air, long enough to move my mind around a certain corner.
A few blocks away from where I lay sat Gill’s Delicatessen, on the corner of Main Street and Thompson Avenue. A glass-fronted cabinet inside the store, holding penny candy. Wrinkled Mr. Gill waiting to hear which gooey confection I wanted that day. I’d stolen the change from my mother’s purse when she was preoccupied with hysteria, this opportunity the same one that arose most summer days in 1957.
A long, Formica-topped bar, local laborers chomping teeth into hoagies that smelled of salami and fresh-cut, wet onion slices. Mr. Moschella, leader of the local Republican ward, a trash man by trade — and glad for membership in the union to which he belonged — making tired, loud speeches about whom the men in town should next elect.
Across the way a wooden barrel filled to the brim with dill pickles swimming in brine. Nickle a piece, but I did not dare to taste one for fear that my breath would later reveal my thievery of coins.
A deep, red, metal cabinet. Slide open the top doors to find a selection of soda pop. Coca Cola, RC Cola, Hires Root Beer, Yahoo Chocolate Drink. Screwed to the front side of the cabinet a solid, strong bottle opener.
A light bell jangled as I exited Gill’s. Two blocks down and across Main Street the school I attended and loved. Such a wonder to consider that in those ancient times, times when report cards were filled in by kindhearted teachers wielding fountain pens, times when window shades were as brown and comfortable as parchment paper, when children’s desktops were made of birch wood — each summer hand-sanded and varnished by volunteer dads — times when books, pencils and paper were sufficient to the task of educating young boys and girls; such a wonder to consider that such boys and girls grew up to teach a still younger group of students whom the experts insist are in dire need of their vile and weary forms of research.
Pop Gill died a few years hence. I moved away, moved a great distance from the sound of that airplane’s propellers. Free, I thought, to eat dill pickles to my heart’s content. Free, I felt, to fall in love, to dance, to sing, to write my stories.
Free, I thought.
But Pop Gill had died, and with him went the memories of wooden barrels; parchment window shades and the aroma of wet, sliced onions. With him went the voices of the men who sat inside the delicatessen, deciding the fate of a future fold they could not see.
With me, as I traveled, came the memories of hysteria and the reality of fifteen-page applications that can change a man’s life, but maybe far too late to avoid the scalpeled price of self-destruction.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll climb the next mountain, complete the next application, visit the next physician, listen to the next round of bad news.
Until then I’ll think of friendship and its partnership with penny candy.