Lugging Season Opener
I have a habit of lugging things from place to place. A ridiculous quantity of things, all at once. As though I haven’t the sense to make a couple lists instead of just one. Or to divide and conquer my errands, carving them into territories or lumping them into categories — hitting one neighbourhood or one type of shops, or doing things in order of priority, according to urgency. This is weird, because I think of myself as a very organised and pragmatic person. I feel so strongly about these powers that I will even use “very” to describe me, although I know from years of copy editing experience the word “very” is so empty, inappropriately used and unnecessary that there is rarely a time when it shouldn’t be edited out.
And still, I lug. I know better, and could plan better, but I don’t. Living downtown, I’ve never been compelled to earn a driver’s licence, and frankly, having started to learn nearly four years ago and growing more and more terrified of the process each time I hit the road, it’s probably never going to happen. Maybe someday when I visit my friend in the desert, he can take me to a long, straight road with nothing but cacti and buzzards for miles on either side, and get me over my fear. Either that, or it’ll go down something like the road trip scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
I used to think driving would be great, but experience has changed my mind. Friends’ children successfully earn their licences while I flounder and freak out and do erratic shit like pull over in the middle of traffic and force my passenger to take the wheel. They rarely take much convincing; tearful, hands flapping like angry sparrows, declaring I will get out of this fucking car right fucking now and walk home and take the keys and the police can ticket the car then tow it for all I care because I am not driving it one inch farther…this goes a long way toward establishing unfitness to continue my lesson.
And so, I remain unlicenced and unable to take advantage of neat modern conveniences like Zipcars anytime I need to purchase something like enough dirt to feed my depleted garden, a flat of perennials, all the groceries in the world, or a case of wine. (See how neatly that fit, “needing” a case of liquor?) And so, I lug things from place to place by bicycle, no matter the distance and no matter the nature of the lugging. You read things about how in many parts of Africa, the only way to get around and bring home your daily necessities is by bicycle. I see no reason I shouldn’t do things the same way.
Sometimes, an outing starts off with no signs of the lugging to come. For instance, a simple commute home or a Sunday trip along the waterfront. But then I’ll think about the laundry soap and the olive oil and the library books that will be such heavy arse-pains to lug home in a satchel. Or I’ll spot a neat rock at the side of the road, or some other damn heavy thing that I can’t pass up. Or I’ll think of the friend I’ve invited to dinner and her appetite for red wine, plenty of it, and meanwhile I have stocked only white. And soon, I’ve pulled over ten times, neatly loading my basket with a pound of potatoes (for gnocchi), a bag of nuts and seeds and oats and shit (for granola), two bottles of wine (because while my friend drinks one, I’ll probably drink another), three bottles of dish soap (because it’s on sale and this means I won’t have to buy more for nearly a year) and a trio of potted plants (because now that I’ve hauled my weight in top soil home, I might as well buy something to sink roots into it).
A few years ago, I was an editor for an online journal; we published wonderful pieces that showcased particular themes, all told in the first person by someone close to that topic. The quality of the material was tethered to how well each interview went — a great subject could tank over the course of a dreadful conversation, while a topic that started off dull could really shine when the story came out of the right person’s mouth. Once, tasked with beating an especially bad interview transcript into a meaningful dialogue, I considered sending our intern back to the guy he’d spoken with and having him give it a second go. His assignment was to meet with the owner of a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, a guy who’d been around for decades and was the self-described soul of the neighbourhood, which at that time was poised to aggressively gentrify, wiping out history and kitsch in favour of cash and fine dining. It was plain from the transcript that the intern was no match for this man’s ego or agenda, and although his story was a compelling one, the guy came off sounding like a complete asshole with nothing much to say. If he had just shut the fuck up from time to time and allowed the intern to be the interview’s rudder, it all could have been so great.
I wanted the story to work, and at its heart sprouted a kernel of hope: his meandering monologue about dull, arrogant stuff created a diversion from the good bit hiding inside, a thing about refrigerators and how people give away their true natures by the contents. He quickly wrecked his own momentum with another lame tangent, but for a brief moment, his idea was really on. He talked about how when he begins to date someone and stays the night in their home, he offers to cook breakfast the following morning, or to prepare a midnight snack. Under cover of a good deed, he gleans information about his prospective partner’s life. Does the person own only condiments and an array of chilled booze? Packaged wieners and American cheese and other food not made from food? Do they rationalise an empty fridge by claiming life is too hectic to shop, by extension suggesting that if they don’t have time to stock a pantry then probably the sort of relationship they’re up for looks a lot like beers and fucking on Fridays but not much else?
I feel like my lugging habits tip my hand the same way. The contents of my bicycle basket are a current events broadcast about my life. I lug a lot of things, but not much of any one thing — probably, I live alone and cook for myself and my lunch the next day. I garden (or just really like dirt), I make preserves (or eat a lot of fresh fruit and raw sugar), I plan to be the local wine runner if prohibition is ever resurrected (it’s the only reasonable explanation for all the chablis). I’m a reader (the bundle of library books). I own some extra shoes (I might be an office lady, but am resisting the slide into keeping pairs of heels in a desk drawer). Chances are I tend to be chilly; even on the hottest days, there’s a sweater or jacket rolled up and stuffed in there. Bag logos show off that I purchase my clothes from expensive stores, but my basket doesn’t tell whether I buy things full-price like a sucker, or wait till items that no one generally fits are marked for sale.
Similarly, I felt like the restaurant guy’s fridge theory had some unfair holes. Maybe his Thursday night date didn’t have eggs and butter and milk at hand due to an exciting and fun excuse. Maybe the person had a really good explanation for all those freaky condiments. Maybe he’s sleeping with an emerging culinary genius — think of the crap that must vie for space in Christina Tosi’s fridge during recipe-testing marathons and the dessert empire that wouldn’t exist without those shelves jammed with “junk”. Maybe his date just wasn’t counting on some loudmouth showing up for a one-nighter then barging into the kitchen, bent on messing the place up by cooking midnight eggs.
Like my reluctance to write off that interview as a waste of space and never publish it (remember: the kernel of hope!), the stuff I lugged last month reflected my stubborn reluctance to let something go and to give up.
The first week of May, my sweet little cat, who was only three years old, got really, gravely, sick and I didn’t know what to do. After a son-of-a-bitch of an autumn and winter, I had looked forward to languishing under summer skies, sweating through shirt after shirt, drinking wine with my feet up and watching my garden grow. And, to brushing soil off everything inside my house and out, as my kitten dug to China in my garden, hunted the long decorative grass and fashioned a duck-blind from the hostas, which she would hunker behind to watch the local birds. Nothing has ever lightened my life like watching that cat mess around in my plants, or running through the apartment with a blade of grass jutting from her mouth like a pipe.
The sicker she became, the more carefully I selected seedlings and herbs, lugging them home in carriers fashioned out of bags and boxes and string. I tied sage and oat grass to my handlebars so the stems wouldn’t snap when I hit pot-holes, and used soft things purchased at the bulk store — rice, quinoa, milled spices and flour — to make nests for the really tender plants, the violets and pansies and vines and other things that might bruise. I figured that so long as I kept believing it was important to landscape this season’s garden with a cat in mind, there was a chance she would be ok.
I lugged home groceries, too, really tasty things I figured I could trick myself into eating even though fretting and sleeplessness had flipped my appetite off like a switch. One night, I grilled a lovely steak; the thing was perfect in all ways. Balcony door open, I dined outside and stared at the sky, mostly carving the meat into little slices and pushing them around my plate. I thought Birdo might come out for fresh air and to put in a bit of work (that hole to China isn’t going to dig itself), but no. The sun dropped and the bats came out and the sparrows turned in for the night, and eventually so did I. Birdo stayed in all evening, curled in the shape of a tea-cosy or moving restlessly between hiding spots, whiskers pointing into corners like a gesture of security.
Our last weekend together was a rough one. The weather was the perfect blend of sun and puffy clouds and light breezes and gently muggy heat that persists after nightfall and keeps you lingering around a table outdoors with friends and wine and grilled meat. The sort of climate I live for, passing through autumn and winter then spring in a frustrated, angry sulk about how come Ontario is so stupid and why can’t it be summer all year. I managed most parts of that; the lingering, the smoky grilling, and after dark watching the stars. But I was sad and it was pretty hard.
And we drank, probably (definitely) way too much, which under the circumstances I decided was fine.
Birdo spent those days beneath my armchair, making the tiniest, saddest sounds I’ve ever heard and breaking my heart. And, she spent the nights creeping around the apartment on legs that didn’t really work so much anymore, while I crept after her through dark rooms, looking for her flash of white fur that set her apart from the shadows. And mostly, together, we cried.
Once she was gone, I figured I would feel relieved — that’s what people describe, after a long, hard time of things and a tough but necessary decision. Instead, in addition to learning how much it costs to help a cat leave this earth, I learned some things about how my bicycle basket correlates with my heart. I am a lugger. I lug things. Old things, fresh things, dumb things and smart ones, too.
This month, I’m trying to lug a little less of everything — tangible and abstract — because it’s not always a kernel of hope that you’re cupping in your palm. And even when it is, it’s often ok to let that seed-tiny weight fall from your hand, because hope is heavy, too. Let go, and ride a little lighter.