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Spring Fling

Spring, that little coquette, has been flirting with us. An hour’s worth of sun lures you outside but the clouds are quick behind and then you’ve got hail in your pockets. There’s cherry blossoms and baby birds chirping in the leaves. They’ll litter the ground when the next cold snap hits—we’re not out of this thing yet.

Everyone knows better but after months of being cooped up complaining about the cold and the grey no one can control themselves. Throw on some shoes, some useless thin scarf, tuck the lapdog into an old sweatshirt and go, go, go!

Our brains haven’t caught up, or maybe our brains have a better grasp on the situation than our impulses and refuse to be roused for these midday walks. A woman was dragging a baby carriage into the street while trying to guide a freewheeling toddler from corner to corner. There was a car waiting for this confused tangle to clear, allowing plenty of room for the trickeries of gravity or the momentum of plastic wheels. The woman stopped and began to wave the driver on, who wasn’t really sure how to respond. Babies in the street, not taking my foot off the brakes. But the woman kept waving and waving and finally the driver decided to inch forward, hugging the opposite curb. The woman threw her arm out to stop the car, which somehow managed to screech to a halt while rolling forward. After some confusion a window was lowered. “I was wondering if you have any napkins,” the woman asked.

* * *

During the early days of sunshine people stop on the street to say hello to one another. The neighbors who have treated me with suspicion and fear for months on end stop mowing the lawn to proclaim what a beautiful day it is. Little kids run around blowing bubbles and share cookies. Cats are even starting to pester me for attention instead of running away and hiding. It was surprising to see the jogger talking to the motorcycle cop on the corner, but only a little.

What made it seen strange was that the motorcycle cop had pulled onto the sidewalk. If I was riding along and saw someone I knew and was going to stop and chat I’d probably stay on the street and lean on the curb. Maybe the cop was trying to flirt with the jogger and had driven onto the sidewalk to be impressive or chivalrous or exceptionally manly. Maybe she’s a cop too. I could be stumbling across flirting cops swept up in seasonal renewal. But no, as I rolled to a stop at the light I realized that the cop was yelling at the jogger for cutting across the street on a red.

I was close to the curb. You were not close to the curb you were in the middle of the street. I was paying attention. You were not paying attention. You could have been killed.

Cutting off cops is stupid. I’ve done it and I’ve only ever done it because I was not paying attention. Cops hate to get cut off, and while that’s in part because it’s a big middle finger to their authority I’ve found it’s mostly because they have little heart attacks when they almost run some idiot over. Apologize profusely, you really don’t have a leg to stand on here. Try to come up with a plausible excuse, like how the bus was blocking the stop sign. Don’t let on that you might actually be too drunk to be riding your bike. Hope they don’t ask for any ID and thank your lucky stars that the homeless guy watching everything go down gets aggro so you can ditch down the street when they turn around to deal with him. You do not stand there and argue. You do not fucking continue to jog in place with one earbud dangling from your head.

* * *

A couple regulars staggered out from The Bluebird Tavern and caught us with empty glasses at the only outside table. One introduces the other as her best friend in the whole world. She doesn’t smoke, but tonight she’s smoking. She’s also too drunk to talk, let alone light her cigarette.

Just back from seeing NASCAR in Vegas. My brother died yesterday. I knew as soon as I saw the missed call on my phone when I landed what was going on. I had to hurry home and then drive down to Salem with my daughter and my mother. The best friend in the whole world wandered off to lean against some of the other regulars who were leaning against the wall of the bar.

She had to drive to Salem because that’s where her brother had been incarcerated on his final drug offense. The upshot of being imprisoned was that the doctors discovered the cancer and kept him alive for a year before he was transferred to a medical facility where all attempts to fend off death had failed. His final hours were lost in a morphine drip chained to some bed, guard posted inside the room and family allowed in one at a time.

The cigarette had gone out, and there were tears now. Not dripping into the Jack and Coke, just welling up and threatening to spill. Why couldn’t they let his family be by his side? What’s he going to do, he’s dying? He’s dying and they need to have a guard in the room? He couldn’t have been in the hall? He wasn’t a murderer, he never hurt anyone, he just had a drug problem and kept screwing up. It’s not right, she kept repeating. She repeated herself a lot, but none of us were going to point this out. It’s not right. Of course it’s not right. Of course it doesn’t make any sense. There’s no reason that someone on the verge of death, doped beyond comprehension, needs a guard in the room. There’s no reason to prevent the family from gathering around, from holding hands, from wiping sweat from the brow, from sitting in silence waiting for the end. It’s just rules. It’s just the end product of policy to make people feel safer.

She didn’t need to hear that we understood. She needed to cry and burn through the hurt and the anger. There wasn’t a thing I could say, just stand and offer her my seat and listen in silence with head nodding along. No family should have to go through this. She’s going to call the news, call the state, call the Department of Corrections, fight them until they change the rules that punish people to the grave and the families who still love them.

Someone finally made a move to leave. I collected myself without much to say to the crying woman sitting alone at a table holding a half-smoke cigarette and an untouched drink. She asked me to apologize to my friends for taking over our table. Please don’t apologize.

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