The first incident: I went to the post office this morning to mail a birthday card to a friend and check my p.o. box. I had my faithful dog Zuli with me – faithful to me, a terrorizing chihuahua to others. When an old man approached as I was about to open my p.o. box, I reflexively tugged at Zuli’s leash to make sure she didn’t try to take a bite out of him. Strangely, though, she made no attempt to leave my side and just gave the man a calm, disinterested glance. The man said, “That’s a cute little guy. Is it a he or a she?”
“She,” I said. The man was clutching an untidy stack of mail in one hand, with one envelope at the top already torn open. Something about him, the easy-going way he spoke, the simple, rumpled clothes he wore, the overall no-nonsense vibe he projected, reminded me of my father, who died over 15 years ago. Anyway, I decided to converse with this man a little longer than I might have conversed with any other stranger at 8 in the morning when all I really wanted to do was get a letter in the mail early and continue on my way to Starbucks for a double espresso.
“You know, I have an interview today,” he said. “In Carson City, Nevada. I just checked my mail, and now I’m driving to the Mojave desert and then on to Carson City.”
“Oh,” I said. “Good luck on your interview.”
“You know why I’m leaving California?” he went on. “Let me show you why.”
He raised his small stack of envelopes so that I could see the one on top, the one already opened. It was nearly in shreds, as if torn open with a certain amount of eagerness, but its red, white and blue emblem announced the sender easy enough. NRA, it declared.
“California is at war with us, you know. We won’t be able to keep our guns much longer. Nevada’s not like that. I’m moving all my guns over there. I’ve lived in California for over 30 years. It’s time for a divorce.”
Zuli was still calm as can be, but I was getting a bit antsy. The post office was empty except for the dog, me, and this gun-toting-minded old man, who in contrast with his kind, rather distant blue eyes, kept on talking and talking and talking about guns.
So even though he still reminded me of my father, I eventually opened my box, grabbed my mail and started walking toward an exit with Zuli ambling alongside. I turned my head back once, and the man was still standing where I’d left him and still carrying on about guns. I felt that I needed to say something in return – he looked so alone and defenseless in the cold, glassy light of the place – so I called out all that I could think to say, “Good luck to you.”
The second incident: In the evening, I went to the local supermarket to buy some salad fixings. I like vegetables, but I’ve never been particularly partial to fruit. But after buying a bag of lettuce, a cucumber, and a red bell pepper, I found myself lingering over some pears, thinking I really ought to eat more fruit. And since there are only a few fruits that I can stomach – pears being one of them – I started to pick through the heap of pears, hoping to find one that looked possible for me to force down. That’s when another old man approached me. Now, I have nothing against old men, and I know I really ought to depict individuals with a little more finesse, but for the sake of giving you a general impression, here was another old man coming my way to tell me something.
This one didn’t look like my father at all. He was very tall, with thick white hair and an air of wisdom about him. As I was gently checking the pears for ripeness, he loomed over me and said, “The best ones are the yellow ones. They are ripe off the tree like that. Here, you won’t be disappointed.” And he grabbed a yellow pear and insisted I take it from his hand. Well, anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a bit of a germaphobe, so I pretended not to notice he meant for me to grab the pear from his big disease-infested hand.
“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure if I need one that’s real ripe. I might not be eating it right away.” His hand with the pear remained hovering for a bit, then he set the pear back down. So as not to be too rude and since he seemed pleasant enough, I ventured to say, “You know, I’ve never been much of a fruit eater, but sometimes I like pears.”
A look of mild surprise registered behind his large black rimmed glasses. “You don’t like fruit?” he said. “How can you not like fruit? It’s one of God’s gifts to us. God made the beautiful flowers. They are all around, everywhere you look, and fruit is from these flowers. God gave us this fruit to enjoy. First, he gave us babies to enjoy. Then he gave us fruit.”
I was thinking: Fruit? Babies? I only came here to buy vegetables! And even though a part of me admired his waxing poetic about the bearing of fruit while standing in the middle of the produce aisle, his comments left me feeling a bit off kilter for all sorts of personal reasons.
So what connects these two incidents? Who knows! But one day I’ll have to take hold of the threads and weave them into a tale just to make sense of it all.