I live in the land of salt and pepper.
That is to say, I live in the land where The Trixies of Lincoln Park, upon snagging their perfect Ken of Lincoln Park come to settle down and breed.
Everyone here travels in pairs.
Salt doesn’t go anywhere without Pepper, ketchup would have a hard time shopping the Pottery Barn without mustard and it’s a rare occasion that tea’s gonna make it out to Eddie Bauer Home without crumpet .
If you were to do an archeological dig, I am almost certain you’d find Noah’s Ark somewhere stuck in the strata under the Barnes and Noble down the street.
After moving here last summer it was literally weeks before I saw anyone else out in public, alone. I was walking along the river on a brick path, doing my usual dance to dodge the army of strollers attempting to run over my toes when I came to a more secluded portion of the path.
On a park bench, in the distance, there was a man lying on his side. Napping. All by himself.
“Bravo! Good show, old man!”
It wasn’t until I got closer I saw that his shoes were in extremely poor condition, the suit he was wearing was soiled and torn and he was terribly unkempt.
It became obvious the only solo adventurers that day were the homeless and myself.
Part over active imagination, part geographical truth, solo adventure in this area is seemingly frowned upon and seen as freakish in nature.
I’ve become accustom to the ways of the neighborhood so I plan most of my walks early in the morning. Although I am in no way shape or form a morning person , it’s the best time to hit the trail before the army of Kens and Trixies make it out for a stroll and the paths by the river are not overrun with matching Sunday warm up suits and baby strollers and people sporting paper Starbuck “to go” cups like it’s a big ass cubic zirconium broach or any other obnoxious fashion accessory you can think of.
But this morning, this morning it is cloudy and cold. There was rain overnight, so the streets are slick and grey - the perfect morning to have a pot of coffee and finish my trashy book club novel with under a warm blanket. I listen to The Trinity Session and the morning is soft and lovely.
I decide to take a walk later - even though it was Sunday, usually the highest day of pedestrian traffic in the ‘hood which normally means a much earlier walk - I knew the river paths would be void of tykes and Trixies alike. Hey, those matching warm up suits may be pretty, but apparently not to be taken in the literal context of actually keeping these people warm.
Baby Gap would be crowded, the walking paths, not so much.
So, I walk along the path and it is beautifully deserted.
I move along.
The snow falls on my hair, and the wind turns it into a tangled mess, but I feel good. I’ve got a lot to think about – a lot of things I’ve been avoiding and the quiet cadence from my feet helps to give my tangled thoughts a clear beat to follow.
I could walk forever.
After about a half mile and realize the dentist’s office I am going to tomorrow is just down the street. The one I chose because it’s close and I can walk ‘cause I may be too hopped up on laughing gas to drive myself home.
The really weird thing is, I talked to my sister on the phone yesterday and it seems she actually had to go into the dentist that morning for an emergency root canal. Apparently she was having some of the same problems I was.
I had no idea. She said she was in so much pain her husband Steve had to take her to the emergency room at like, 4 in the morning. The doctor hopped her up on Vicodin to kill the pain and Steve took her home. Finally a dentist said they could take her later that day.
X-Rays were taken, Novocain was administered, nerves were dug into, infected gums were saved. Three and a half hours later, Steve drove her home. She said was feeling better.
“ann, why are you so quiet?”
“Because I am scared.”
“you’re never scared.”
I keep walking.
The air is grey light flakes fall and I can hear the crisp water. I hear the ducks.
I am always tempted to take old bread along on these walks so I can feed the ducks – but I don’t want to become that person. For the same reason I don’t own any cats, or a shawl, I do not want to become the old lady who feeds the ducks.
It’s just too soon to become a card-carrying member of that club.
So, instead I just walk along I stop on one of the bridges to watch the ducks. Play. Frolick. Have a collective good old time splashing in the icy water.
I feel cold for them.
Up the path about another half mile, I can’t make out the figure at first, but I can see in the distance, there’s a man with a baby stroller next to him. He’s sitting bundled on a bench.
“Wow, one of the Ken dolls actually braved the cold and bundled their child up for a nice walk. Good for them.”
I get closer and realize the man has wrapped himself in a quilt. The baby stroller is facing him, so I can’t see inside.
Closer. I can see just the man’s eyes peeping from behind the quilt he has bundled up to his eyes. He is absolutely still. The quilt is filthy and torn.
Sitting up, in the beaten and worn stroller is not a darling little tyke dressed from head to toe in Old Navy but an old red thermos with steam rising out of it’s opened top.
It was the same man I had seen sleeping on the bench this summer.
I feel cold for him.
I stop looking, pick up speed and walk by quickly. Before he can feel cold for me, too.