My friend Pat was in Florida on family business. She emailed from Tampa
suggesting that we meet up in Venice, where she would be visiting her uncle. I
remailed that I would pick her up there and spirit her off to Lido Key at 10:30
the next morning. Could I supply a beach umbrella? Pat wanted to know. What
color would you like? I said.
The pleasure of riding the sweep and velocity of I75 was suddenly disturbed, just
outside North Port, by the flashing tire pressure indicator on the dashboard. I
pulled off at the next exit, marveling at the fact that the truck’s hypothalamus
was tracking my tire pressure, and into a service station to have a look. The
slowly deflating driver’s side rear tire gently hissed. I looked around, and saw a
WalMart across the street, its Tire & Service Center standing serenely in the
I thought it best to reflate the tire as best I could for the jog over to the Big
Box. The air pump required an outrageous $.75 for a blow job - quarters only.
Which of course meant I had to break some dollars, ie: buy something, in the
convenience mart. I bought chips and a coke. My inner paleolith, an incipient
I rolled cautiously up to the megamart's Tire Center. The cocky young mechanic
informed me that I would have to park the truck “over there,” and added,
gratuitously, as if pointing out the obvious to an imbecile, “you can’t park here
and block the service entrance.” I looked around. There didn't seem to be
anybody, or any vehicle in the vicinity, waiting to drive into the service entrance.
I got in the truck and limped “over there,” so that, presumably, somebody else
could come out to the truck and drive it back to the service entrance. A much
friendlier service rep, clipboard ready, came out and together we examined the
tire. A piece of wood, formidable enough to dispatch a vampire in its coffin, had
pierced the tread. I took it as a reverse-omen, remembering the words of Kay
Rist, my retreat partner at Mount Manresa on Staten Island: "The devil is trying
to throw a stumbling block in your path." That proved I was serving my karass.
It could not, I was told, be patched. I made a mental note to save the tire and
have it patched by my local mechanic.
It would take, I was told, about forty-five minutes to deal with the flat, an
estimate which I immediately and mentally doubled. So I had an hour-and-a-
half to find what diversion I could, in a Walmart off the freeway. I phoned Pat.
“I’m at Walmart,” I said. “About a half-hour from Venice. I have a flat tire.” An
uplifting mew of sympathy came. Words of encouragement were exchanged.
Pat, never a morning person, was not noticeably upset that I would now arrive
closer to lunch than to breakfast.
I have a nephew whose grocery shopping strategy I’ve always thought
innovative: he goes down every aisle once, then proceeds to checkout. That was
my starting point, though WalMart’s considerably expanded resources, compared
to the average supermarket, promised to consume time instead of save it. But I
soon abandoned the strategy: WalMart has many more aisles, unlike a
supermarket, of things, unlike food, that I’m not remotely interested in. I
lingered for a while in front of the large-screen televisions. Went to see if they
were still importing Chinese raw silk camp shirts. Didn’t see any. Looked at the
latest in fishing lures... I’m entranced by artful replicas of real things. The
assorted bugs, invertebrates, and small fish were fascinating. Some of them
wiggled realistically and were eerily lifelike to the touch.
I noticed the eye-care facility and decided to have my eyes checked, since it had
been several years since my last. Turns out the facility is a concession, devised
by a presiding physician. This one seemed quite advance and high-tech,
futuristic, hushed, sterile, white-on-white. After the traditional eye-chart, eye-
dominance, and peripheral vision exams were completed by an agreeable and
attractive young assistant, I was given the familiar glaucoma air-puff test, all of
which fell into, or bettered, the normal range. Then it was on to Clockwork
Orange mode, and a couple of machines that anchored my chin in a tray, and
my temples between padded plates, while bright lights were flashed at my retina
and rings of neon green encircled my pupil like intergalactic worm holes. This is
what an alien abduction must be like, I thought.
At the consultation, doctor had nothing alarming to report. Sun damage was
trivial. My macula was mainstream. I wouldn’t have to worry about cataracts for
another decade. I thanked him, swiped my card, and headed for the Tire &
Service Center, the eye lab iterated in a cavernous, noisy mode, black-on-black.
As I was driving away, new tire spinning happily, I noticed that the tire pressure
indicator was still lighted. I turned around and went back to query the rep. “It
should go out after you drive for a while,” he said. And so it did, synapses re-
engaged and warning cancelled.
I arrived in Venice in time, as expected, for lunch. Pat and I exchanged hugs
and gifts. I gave her an ounce of Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. She
gave me E. L. Doctorow’s “Homer & Langley,” a novel, and a beautiful
saffron-yellow NYC Community Kayak T-shirt. We check-listed supplies and the
game plan for the day ahead, and pointed Frog toward Lido beach. We fell into
the old patter. I sang “If I give my heart... to you...” Pat fell in with the
harmony, its celebrated inverted thirds, its paradoxically beautiful ode to love-
as-revenge. “Take that,” we seemed to sing, as the world flew by, Lido Beach
drew near, and all our troubles seemed so far away.