Oranges and Apples
It is the first workday after daylight savings time has begun. I live very close to my job so I am home at ten minutes after five, and the first thing I do is get a sweet potato and wash it off and pierce it with a fork numerous times and put it on a paper towel and stick it in the microwave for four and a half minutes.
While it is cooking, I change from my work clothes into a blue t-shirt, blue jeans, white athletic socks and white sneakers. I have to change right away because otherwise the mood from work stays with me. Today I had to be very patient even though people’s stupid questions made me irascible.
After I ate my sweet potato and an Amy’s black bean burrito and some blueberries in fat-free plain yogurt, I left my filthy apartment and drove to the Starbucks at Flamingo Falls. I had a library copy of A Moveable Feast with me because I was thinking about using it in a lesson I had to teach as part of a job interview to be an English teacher at a Jewish community high school in another state.
My friend Pat, whose wife died last month, suggested the lesson. I would start by showing that scene in the movie City of Angels where Nicolas Cage as the invisible angel sits next to an old man reading A Moveable Feast in the Los Angeles Central Library. That was where all the angels lived. I’ve been there.
The part of the book the old man was reading was from the very first section, which Pat said was a perfect moment, and then he said I should discuss perfect moments with the students they were juniors, and their current teacher said that they were bright, respectful, curious and witty and then have them write about a perfect moment in their own lives and then we could read it aloud and share.
Pat didn’t say this, but I always think the teacher should write along with the students. I guess the first perfect moment that came to mind that I could write about took place in July of 1984 at Tanglewood, when I was sitting on a picnic blanket at dusk with three friends Matthew, a composer I’d known for three years; Ellen, an older karate teacher who was writing a book about woman warriors; and Elizabeth, a young, dark-haired painter I’d just met listening to Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony. We were eating sandwiches on thick slices of black bread and listening to Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” not the usual Ravel arrangement but a different one which made the familiar music seem new.
I didn’t want to bother Pat but I had thought he must feel lonely and lost in that big house now that his wife is gone and I figured maybe giving him something else to think about, like coming up with an idea for my lesson, would occupy his mind a little and drive out other thoughts. Pat is the best teacher I know.
Just before I park my car near the Starbucks, a report comes on public radio’s “Marketplace” about the many people filing for bankruptcy before the new law takes effect. I listen to it after I shut off the engine my radio doesn’t go off until I open the car door and I feel sort of happy because two weeks ago I gave my attorney the last of the documents he needed to file my own bankruptcy petition. When the credit card companies call about my late payments, I just give them my attorney’s name and number and they leave me alone.
I order a venti iced black tea, unsweetened, and I empty seven packets of Equal in it, and when I take it out to the table outside, it tastes just right, not watery like the one I had the morning before at another Starbucks. They make it with some kind of tea concentrate and sometimes they add too much water.
At the Starbucks on the turnpike rest areas they hardly dilute them at all, and they are too strong. When I drank one of those driving home from Tallahassee last month, I almost immediately had a panic attack due to the caffeine rush. But by the time I got to Yeehaw Junction, the panic attack was over.
The sun is behind me and I can feel it on my neck.
It has been forty years since I first read A Moveable Feast. I’d forgotten it almost totally. I was only fifteen the first time.
I sat there and read the whole book and it still wasn’t dark. I finished the iced tea in the middle, but I didn’t want to get a refill because I was afraid I would not be able to fall asleep later. I thought about all the people Hemingway wrote about and whether this lesson would actually work. I tried not to feel anxious.
Six out of the last seven mornings when I woke up, I almost immediately had diaphoresis, sweaty palms, because I felt anxious. My psychologist, who believes in evolutionary biology, says I am one of those people bred to be a sentry because I am so hypersensitive and hyper-alert. In Paleolithic days I would have warned my tribe about any saber-toothed tigers coming to our camp.
But of course now I worry about things without teeth.
I go to the bathroom and I put the book back in the car and I walk across the shopping center to The Fresh Market because I need twist-ties and the supermarket I usually go to does not have them in their produce section. At The Fresh Market I discreetly put a bunch of twist-ties in my sweatshirt pocket and then I remember I ate the last navel orange at lunch.
I buy two red Cara Cara navel oranges, never having heard of them before. They have various kinds of organic apples too, and I buy two of the cheapest variety, Braeburns from Washington State.
The girl at the checkout counter is standing in the aisle, waiting. I decide I will lie to her.
“Today someone told me you can’t compare apples and oranges,” I say as she scans my fruit. I am going to see if that’s really true.
She looks at me warily. At my age, I am invisible at gay bars.
“Oh, I think they’re very different,” she says.
“Different, yes,” I say. “But I think you can compare them. I want to find out.”
The fruit costs $3.66 and I give her a five-dollar bill and she gives me change. She doesn’t say anything more.
“The next time I come in,” I say, “I’ll tell you what I found out.” She is already scanning the groceries of the woman who was behind me.
I head back to my car near the Starbucks, which is not a cafe’ in Paris.
Tired of the radio, I put on the CD player and a song I like comes up. It’s the middle of the song and the boy is telling his girlfriend that if she should slit his throat, with his last dying breath he will apologize for bleeding on her shirt.