A very small Ted talk

glove on branch
Size is relative.

I stood outside Other-Syd’s building, scanning the buzzers for her name. I had her Pyrex plate and a container of turducken soup. Django hadn’t figured out why we’d stopped and was tugging to sniff something on the parkway. Before I could ring the bell, a white-haired man came halfway out the door and smiled at me. I smiled back, stepping aside to give him room to get out.

He remained in the doorway, holding the door open. The entryway was only large enough for one person, maybe two. Definitely not two people and a dog. Plus, I was pretty sure it was a no-dog building. “Oh, I’m just dropping this off for someone,” I said.

The man continued smiling, holding the door. Was he going in or coming out? I waited, but he didn’t move. I decided to ignore him and again scanned the list of names. The man leaned in slightly. “Other-Syd,” I told him, as I spotted it. He seemed to approve of my choice, if his eyebrows were any indication.

I rang the buzzer. Django had noticed the half-open door and was now trying to step past the man into the foyer. “No, Django, we’re not going in,” I said, pulling her away.

The man looked at the row of buzzers. Each bore the tenant’s full name, in shiny, white on black laminated labels. No scotch-taped slips of paper or masking-tape additions here. He seemed to be watching for the return buzz, but instead Other-Syd came down and opened the inside door. There wasn’t room for her to step into the foyer, so she stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “You brought me something!” she said.

I held out my bag and the man moved back slightly behind the door, to make room. “Your stuffing was so yummy, it inspired me to make turkey soup,” I said. “Actually it’s turducken soup.”

There was just enough room for Other-Syd to step forward and take the bag. “Thank you,” she said. “This is Ted, my landlord.” Ted’s broad smile and expressive eyebrows were joined by a nod.

“Hi, Ted,” I said. The three of us paused in a cozy moment of weirdness. I was extra glad I hadn’t let Django take even one step inside. “Well, we were just on our way to the park, so…” I turned to leave.

Ted stepped back around the door. “Nice to meet you,” he said.

“Nice to meet you, Ted,” I said.

“Thanks again,” called Other-Syd from the stairwell.

We continued on to the park. Presumably Other-Syd made it back upstairs, because I got a message later that she loved the soup. As for Ted? I have the feeling that if I walked past there right now, he’d be standing still, half-inside and half-outside his own doorway, flanked by his P-Touch handiwork, waiting.

Luckiest guy in the world

shine 2
Let your light shine before men.

I ran into Mr. Wu at the park. I used to avoid him, because he’d always tell me the same thing. “Three rules for a happy life. One, social interaction is most important.” I don’t remember the other two. Or maybe there were five. Anyway, it made me feel like he was just using me to check off his list for the day. Social interaction, done.

But Curry’s owner told me that Mr. Wu is ninety-something. A good 10 or 15 years older than I assumed, and still coming to the park every day with his dog. It’s a full mile around the park, and Mr. Wu walks it at least once. So I’ve begun seeking him out.

This morning, after leading off with the three or five things, he told me, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” He came to the US from China when he was 16. He was 18 in 1943, when the US began allowing foreign-born citizens into the armed forces. Mr. Wu joined the air force. He got a lot of flack from soldiers who called him a Jap.

After his training, he was first stationed somewhere in Europe. “The Southern soldiers treated me like a houseboy,” he said. “My sergeant told me, ‘Make my bed.’” The first day I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do it.’ The second day, he said, ‘Make my bed.”

“I said, ‘Sergeant, I made your bed yesterday because you asked me. But please, sir, don’t ask me again.’”

“He said, ‘You want to be transferred?’”

“I said, ‘Sure.’” So I end up in New Guinea, flying and back forth to the States on troop transport. That other unit ended up in Normandy. I came back alive. Like I said, I am the luckiest guy in the world.”

Coming back

Clown noses from Dale's birthday
Ruby said the noses were cheaper in bulk.

When we got back from vacation I realized Django is old. I’m afraid to say that because I don’t want to look like I’m projecting. I can’t help it. I’m turning 50 and she’s turning 12. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just what happened. So coming back and hearing that all the warnings and nightmare scenarios I’d given Kelso and Karl, “she goes ballistic at skateboards, she will attack toddlers on scooters, she intensely hates a white dog named Princess,” came to nothing, I had to wonder: Had I prepared them for a younger Django? Had I written up two full pages of instructions on leash-gripping and treat distractions for a dog that no longer exists?

She looked so old on our first walk this morning. It was hot here, full of humidity which I’d forgotten about after our days in northern Michigan. There, the heat was dry and breezy, soft across your skin. Here it pushes heavy and intractable. We walked down Sunnyside. Django did her business and then, when Dave turned into the alley to toss it out, stopped dead in her tracks. Paws pushed against the pavement, head down, eyes staring up under half-closed lids. “She’s not even going to make it around the block,” I said despondently. Kelso and Karl probably wondered why my instructions said “three walks a day, at least”  when clearly all she can manage is a trip around the yard. “She wants her ball,” said Dave.

I looked again. We were standing near the head of the alley, the spot where we usually throw a tennis ball if no one’s around. Granted, she wasn’t actually in the alley, so she wouldn’t be able to see the ball if I threw it. Perhaps she’s too old to remember she needs to be able to see. Anyway, I threw the ball and she tore around the corner. She chased it down, brought it back, and got her treat.

Because of the heat, I only threw it a few times. I worry about her collapsing. In Michigan, Ruby said that after 50 you start second-guessing every ailment, every ache. You think, “Is this it?” she said patting her chest. But a day later, on her husband Roy’s 49th birthday which we celebrated with clown noses and a horrible clown statue and “Send in the Clowns” playing on Tara’s iPad and a clown sundae created by the waitstaff, Roy said age is nothing, not even worth thinking about. To some guy who said he’s not really 49 because he’s now in his 50th year he said, “Whatever.”

We continued walking east, until Django pulled south to go to Hanover Park. That’s what Kelso and Karl called Horner Park accidentally, and I like it. It sounds prettier, more European. No one really cares what a park is called, as long as you know how to get there. It always surprises me, how many small freedoms are ours for the taking.