“I want him to know exactly the special thing he is or else he won’t notice it when it starts to go. I want him to stay awake...I want to be sure he sees all the wild possibilities. I want him to know it’s worth all the trouble just to give the world a little goosing when you get the chance. And I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair.” - Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns
Denver, CO -- Her apartment was stuffy and used to make me cough. I valued her autonomy and blatant confidence in herself.
“I used to be something, really something,” she said. “A looker. You wouldn’t believe it now.”
She’d ordered pizza for us, my friend in her 90’s. She emailed me the day before to say that she had dinner covered. Nice of her. Sitting in her overheated apartment, I couldn’t bring myself to ask how the conversation with the high-end pizza shop went:
“And is this for pick-up or delivery?” they would ask.
“Delivery,” I imagined her saying.
“Okay, that’s going to be about 90 minutes.”
“No,” I could hear her say. “It’s for tomorrow -- I want it here tomorrow at 5:30”....because it’s delivery, like FedEx. You say you deliver so I want it here tomorrow. Don’t give me this ‘90 minutes’ stuff.
I set the table for us. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t think twice about using a decorative plate you’d hang on the wall for a meal, even if it has a little brass chain hanging off the back. And she can do it with class. I shoo the cat off the table and grab a dishcloth to wipe it down.
“Just put placemats down,” she tells me, waving her hands in impatience.
“No,” I tell her, pushing back on just this one thing when I usually go along with what she wants. “This is where you feed the cat and the cat uses the litter box.”
I add more kindly, “I really would feel better if you’d let me wipe down your table.”
She reminds me that I don’t work for her anymore and tells me that she has two young women coming to help her now with shopping and with laundry.
“I bet they don’t fold your underwear as nicely as I did,” I comment, loudly enough that she can hear me over the teakettle. She laughs.
“Not nearly as nice.”
On my last day of work, we both remember, she disclosed that, for every time I helped her over the past two years, she unfolded the two week’s worth of panties that I did in her laundry -- crotch up, side in, side in -- because they didn’t fit in her drawer that way.
“Well I never told you because I knew you were trying to be nice!” she says.
Nice of you to respect my nice, I think.
She tells me that another woman quit on her recently. Just called her family, wouldn’t even tell her directly -- the person actually paying for her help.
“What kind of people are they making these days who won’t even call?”
I squirt down the table and wipe it. She plunks down in her chair and scoots herself closer in to the table.
“Help yourself!” She opens the pizza box and places a slice on her decorative plate.
My friend doesn’t ever dwell on the fact that she generally gives most people around her a run for their money; that she has the world figured out and everyone else seems to be mixed up. You know, like when the pizza guy wants to deliver your pizza on the same day you order it and the person you hired won’t even call when she decides to quit. Yet, when someone folds your underwear the wrong way for two years, you never say anything. And the decorative plate that’s supposed to just hang on the wall? Who says you can’t use it for pizza, or feed your cat on the table if you want to?
The cat makes an attempt to jump back on the table but I shoo it off just in time. Maybe she’s right -- why not give this crazy world a little goosing once in awhile?
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