Monday, June 16, 2008

Schizohedron's Delivery Service

THIS PAST SATURDAY, I WAS heading out to the gym, just ahead of a threatening mass of thunderheads bearing down on the area. I'd parked my car close to the front door of the apartment complex in anticipation of the coming deluge, but it hadn't struck just yet.

As I walked out of the complex, I was flagged by an elderly tenant, who asked me, "Where are you going?" In response, I pointed to my car, not 20 feet away. I continued walking to the vehicle, not knowing that this fleet-footed woman was following me. When I popped open the door, she asked — from right behind me, which nearly made me jump over the car from surprise — if I could drive her to church.

The church to which she referred lies within sight from my front door, about a five-minute walk. (Maybe a little longer for her, an octogenarian, but one with few mobility issues, it seems, if she could sneak up on me like that.) I guess she was nervous about getting caught in the imminent rain. To which I initially thought, Your cure is an umbrella. But what sort of Nazi would I be if I just left her there?

I clarified that we were talking about the same church — this becomes important — then began clearing out my front passenger seat. She began working the back door latch. I shooed her away to clear the considerably more cluttered back seat. Amid a storm of "Thank you"s and "God bless you"s, I drove out of my parking lot and began negotiating my way over to the church, where a decision would have to be made over where to drop her off.

My plan had been to deposit her on the curb from my passenger side and let her make it into the church from there, but seeing as she'd beelined for my back seat (why do only old ladies want to get into my back seat? Who am I, Max Bialystock?). From that point, I'd be dropping her into oncoming traffic. So instead of just letting her out onto the streetside curb, where she stood a good chance of becoming one of those stuffed animals you find on the front of garbage trucks, I asked which set of steps she preferred to climb.

Now by this time, I'd already picked up on the fact that she wasn't quite all there. I'd had this exchange with her:

Me: It's a shame we're losing the resident manager to National Guard duty. He's the only one we've had in nine years who got anything done.

Her: Are you the manager?

So I wanted to get her clear intent before I made the last bit of her journey needlessly complicated by dropping her at the wrong point.

I asked her if she wanted to be let out in the courtyard or around the side. The courtyard had three fewer steps leading in than the side entrance, but would let her get right onto church property without walking through part of the driveway. The side entrance had more steps, but also sported a ramp . . . but in turn would also force her to share part of her approach with traffic under the porte cochere.

I briefed her on the differences, and she asked to be let out into the courtyard, again showering me with quite unnecessary proxy thanks on the part of her deity. From there, she walked back into the driveway . . . toward the longer steps of the side entrance.

I have no idea how my golden years will arrive, whether as a gentle slowing of function, a dissolution of mental capacity so slow I don't even notice its disappearance, or as an abrupt break with soundness of mind or body that revokes any connection with my past. With few if any remaining chances to produce children, much less to presage grandchildren, I suppose I, too, will have to rely on my wits and others' altruism to negotiate the days' challenges when I arrive at the same stage of life as this ride-wranglin' churchgoer has. Let's keep our fingers crossed for both.

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