In their basement, the old couple has row upon row of metal shelves crammed with a menagerie of knick-knacks and do-dads, all rusting and gathering dust, sprouting cobweb condominiums within which reside dust bunnies and the occasional spiders or a cricket. Amongst these supposed "time savers" are treasures such as a personal food dehydrator, for the instances when one does not desire to remove the liquid from food items for anyone else save themselves. Other marvels of modern technology include the jar mashed potato maker, consisting of a jar with a screw-on lid and a spring powered pump that one merely depresses enough times to satisfactorily pulverize a potato. A jar to squish a spud.
All of these devices were gifted to the couple over their many years together, as wedding and engagement gifts, as Christmas presents no doubt grabbed off a shelf last-minute by a son or daughter-in-law, or as empty gestures to one another on birthdays, always given with the promise of being "time savers". With the promise to make life easier.
But the easiness of life doesn't come as effortlessly simple as the dish-washer safe plastic of the salad spinner bowl, or the stainless steel blades of the green egg slicer. Not for this old couple, who has worked for the better part of their sixty years together, rarely taking a vacation, never feeling truly wealthy. Though they're up to their painfully jointed elbows in dust-covered appliances and gadgets, true high society is rarely impressed by an "As Seen On TV" label whether affixed to a package, or to a person.
They tried to keep things the way they thought were right. They raised their two children. They owned a dog. Their son played baseball, their daughter danced. They went to Mass on Sundays and frowned upon the excesses of the media, all like they thought they should.
But life has had a funny way of grinding along like the gears in their Jack Lalanne juicer. And instead of a feeling of contentment and wholeness, this couple in their house, with a basement full of junk, feels watered down, lacking any substance. Thin, transparent, and evaporating. Like the spinach and carrot cocktail good old Jack promises will give you the energy to start your day. But some days it's easier to gather cobwebs of your own.
Somewhere in suburbia every night a woman sits in front of a mirror tracing the lines in her face with her fingertips like etches in an ancient stone. She wonders if the girl all a-smile in those yellowed photo albums ever existed. She thinks that the times of love and happiness, times of laughter, were real. Yet the dampening effect of time elapsed has served only to suggest the opposite to her, or at least that they've existed inasmuch as you or I shall exist, and then cease to do so within a span of time. Sometimes, when she feels brave enough, she allows herself to think back to that girl who once existed and asks herself in her heart-of-hearts if that girl would be proud of what she has accomplished in life. She is a mother, a worker, a provider. A cook, a seamstress, a chauffeur. But not one of those things were listed on that girl's register for life. She wonders if that girl wouldn't know the woman who sits before the mirror smoothing away wrinkles with creams and lotions. Or running arthritic fingers through greyed split ends in the shower, willing the wrinkles and the greyness to wash away with the hot water that dries out her skin and gives her scaly elbows. All down the drain, accompanied by lavender scented bubbles. All she has done in her life, and all those lives she has made better as a result of it - and yet, when she gazes into that mirror, does she still see the one life that she deserved to serve first and foremost?
Today on my way home from work I exited the school as usual, though due to extreme hunger thanks in part to having a ten forty lunch time, I headed for the Taco Bell. For some reason, the staff at the Taco Bell is always way polite. much more polite than one might expect or deem necessary to handle my three soft shell tacos and wild cherry Pepsi but it is what it is. Today's server greeted me and asked how I was, to which i responded "well, and yourself?" he said he was doing just fine. The depressing part is that as I drove around, he opened the window to tell me the amount, and like an idiot I hesitated. He was a man almost as old as my father. His cheeks had the puffed out look of too many nights tossing and turning worried about money, and his hair was pushed back on his head due to the visor he was wearing. he wore glasses and looked like he had shaved earlier that day, but after long hours the stubble was fighting its way to the surface. In the split second it took for me to take all of this in, I made eye contact, and then looked away, handing him my debit card. It felt like I should have said something after such a pleasant greeting, but honestly, I didn't expect to pull around and be greeted by a man of his age. I know it's egocentric of me to imagine the entire world sits on edge awaiting my approval, but I couldn't help but think that my surprise was visible and it came as a blow to him working in a taco bell polo and visor, sweating in a boot with a headset on that smelled like cinnamon and refried beans. Was it a recent lay-off at a job he thought would be a life-time career that earned this man a spot "in the hole"? Was it a monstrously bad decision that wound him up serving beans and cheese and swiping plastic cards? Who knows? Nevertheless, it was very depressing. These thoughts drifted through my mind as I drove the forty-five mile commute back home. By the time I pulled in the driveway the sun had already set and the chill of the February night had begun. Taco wrappers littered the floor on the passenger side of my front seat. I left them there. I don't remember even tasting them as I stared at the road. The next morning, the cherry Pepsi was frozen in the Taco Bell cup as I started my car and drove to work.