Steps

The right couple, the right moment

Thursday morning, I was in a pissy mood, running errands after a visit to the dentist. One errand required that I wait for ninety minutes before it was finished, so I left, wondering how to fill the time. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. I bought a burrito across the street. I drove to a park and eventually found a picnic table under an old Western sycamore. The burrito was cold by that point. It had not been a good week.

While I ate, a silver Hyundai SUV parked across the street. A couple in their sixties got out, a short, slender bald man wearing a baggy tank top and basketball shorts, and the woman – the same height as the man, a little under five feet, but potbellied and broad-shouldered, thickly muscled in her arms – wearing a tight top entirely made of sparkling, red sequins, like a sheath of rubies. The two of them proceeded to pull on boxing gloves and spar in the grass. The woman was the aggressor, more quick-footed, jabbing while he blocked. After five minutes, the man got cranky and yanked off his gloves, unpacked a lawn chair from the car and did a puzzle in a newspaper. The woman found a soccer ball in the trunk and nimbly juggled it with her feet. The man spent most of the next five minutes scratching himself while admiring her from behind his newspaper. Then, in a way to indicate that he was the boss, that he would be the one who decided what happened next in their lives, he stood up hastily, dropped his newspaper in the grass, crawled into the backseat of the car headfirst and gently closed the door behind him with his sneaker. The woman noticed and looked at her phone. She adjusted her red sequins and fluffed out her hair. Then she packed away their sports equipment, the man’s chair and newspaper, got in the driver’s seat and pulled away without a word – for all of ten minutes, I hadn’t heard them utter a single thing – while looking contented, her left arm slung out the window, her tongue clamped between her teeth, her head nodding to Madonna’s “Vogue” on the stereo.

I was reminded of the second-to-last stanza of the poem “Steps” by Frank O’Hara:

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

Sometimes, I thought, life gives you exactly what you need.


What the what? An occasional newsletter by Rosecrans Baldwin of (very) short essays about things he finds beautiful. Any books mentioned in the newsletter are on a list at Bookshop.