My husband, John, had a new chainsaw delivered today. When he brought the box inside, he leaned it in the corner of the living room and said, “I’ll put it here for now.”
And I said, “But that will make the living room look messy!”
The chainsaw is the tall skinny white box in the corner. Everything else against that wall—plus the umbrella on the floor—is equipment for my extrovert activity in the front yard.
It takes a lot of equipment to be an extrovert during a pandemic. At a minimum, two chairs are required. Then there’s the clamp-on wooden desktop that John built for me so that I can write when I’m out there. The rainbow umbrella goes out each morning and comes in each evening, and the little stool doubles as a serving table when visitors need cookies or ice water.
Encounters with passersby vary. Some have been long, with the visitor sitting for over an hour. But most are fleeting, with just a few words exchanged—or not—in passing. Even those brief moments add sparkle to the day, stretching my world a bit bigger. Here are a few of those tiny moments.
Jess is a woman who lives two blocks away. She has an eight-month-old, and twins who are three. She walks a lot with her kids, and a while back, one of the twins named the stump alongside our house “The Giving Tree.”
On a recent morning, needing to occupy themselves while their mom and I chatted, the twins began exploring the wonders of our sidewalk next to The Giving Tree. The most exciting discovery was the pile of fresh dog poop, teeming with ants. The girls were transfixed. When Jess gathered them to head back home, she prompted the twins, “Did you remember to say good-bye?”
With a very enthusiastic wave toward the sidewalk, one of the little girls called out, “Bye, ants! Good-bye, poop!”
Tony spends a lot of time working in his beautiful yard and garden across the street, and has therefore noticed each additional piece of extrovert furniture that I drag outside. After the clamp-on desktop was added, he said, “Whenever I see you out there now, all I can think of is Lucy from Peanuts.”
So now when we’re both outside, he nods meaningfully at me. And I giggle.
There is a fifty-ish man who speed-walks up my street each evening at about 6:00 p.m., sweaty, breathing hard, head down. Always heading north, he nods at me as he passes, and I wave at him. His clothing never varies: a heavy, blue and black, long-sleeved flannel (wool?) shirt; a thick black vest, snugly zipped over the shirt; and loose, gray jersey sweatpants. He always grips a water bottle in his right hand. Even on 90-degree days, the sleeves are full-length, the vest still zipped all the way up.
After many weeks of us nodding at each other, he looked at me one day, without breaking stride. He spoke in a thick Spanish accent:
“Thank you for the support.”
Then he crossed the street, and was gone.
I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but it moved me to tears.
Since we live on a corner, I often see cars pull into the intersection and circle around to make a U-turn. At 5:00 on a sweltering afternoon, a truck swooped around the intersection and pulled up at the corner curb, close to me. The driver rolled down the passenger window. He was laughing.
“I’m tired, and it’s late, and I’m still working. It’s really hot. Then from way down the street, I see your umbrella. ‘Great!’ I think. ‘There’s a fruit guy! That sounds delicious!’ So I come down here.
“And then I see you, reading a book. Aw, shit. You’re not the fruit guy.”
We both laughed and laughed, and then he spun around and left. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t think to run inside and grab him a piece of fruit.
A young man and woman ambled by late on a quiet afternoon. I’d never seen them before. The guy’s faded maroon pants were worn and dirty and of a balloonish cut, while the young woman wore a flowy skirt and strings of beads around her neck. They struck me as more Haight-Ashbury in the ‘60s than San Leandro in 2020. Their faces and arms were heavily tanned; I figured they spent a lot of time outside, and wondered if they had a place to live.
“Hi!” I said.
“Beautiful day!” the guy said as they continued walking.
“Have a good one!” the woman called out before crossing the street.
When they were partway down the next block, he turned and called back, his voice faint in the distance.
“What a great place to hang out!” was Carolina’s opening line. “I live a few blocks from here. I’ve started sitting outside after dinner, too. I just hope my neighbors don’t think I’m stalking them.”
I burst out laughing. “Yeah, I’ve wondered if people think that about me, too.”
She asked, “Oh, because all your signs?”
That hadn’t even occurred to me. I said, “Oh, no, I mean just with all this stuff I bring out here. I’ve wondered if it seems too overwhelming.”
She shook her head emphatically.
“Oh, no, every time I walk past, I love it, and I LOVE seeing your signs.”
As she turned to leave, her parting words were, “I just wanted to come by and say that it’s nice to see you sitting outside. It’s good to see other people. It’s soul-enriching.”
Since then, when I’m outside and it’s quiet and no one has passed in a while, I often think to myself, “It’s soul-enriching to be here.”
And I breathe.
A lot of adults live in the house next door to me. They are immigrants from Hong Kong, and speak Cantonese.
Until last summer, the only words I’d exchanged with any of them were “Hello” and “Thank you.” Other than that, we communicated with smiles, waves, and the occasional letter slipped under our door, courteously informing us in a flowery old-world English translation that our overgrown bushes were blocking their windows.
Then a year ago, I broke both of my feet, and Mr. K. began popping out words of English, directed at me.
“Good!” he cried the first time he saw me using a borrowed scooter instead of scooting toward the car on my butt. “Very good!” he cried many weeks later when I clomped around in my two heavy boots. “WALK NOW!” he exclaimed when I had finally shed the boots and took those first shuffling steps down the sidewalk.
My favorite was the full sentence that he began calling out whenever he saw me: “Good luck for you!”
When I began learning Spanish many years ago, I noticed that I was much more animated when speaking the new language. What I lacked in vocabulary, I had to make up for in facial expressions, gestures, and intonation. Maybe that’s why Mr. K. is so animated when he speaks. When he speaks, I am under the spell of him.
Picture a man slight of build, his hair scant and ruffled by the wind. Maybe he is my age (61), but maybe he is ten years older or ten years younger. Now picture this man as a rock star at a huge outdoor concert, raising his arms to the heavens, summoning his fans to leap to their feet. Except even after they’re all up, he still vibrates with energy, his arms still upraised, his face alight.
From my seat in the Extrovert Chair, I watch each late afternoon as Mr. K. scuffs down the sidewalk, wearing plastic flip-flops at least three sizes too big. When he speaks English words, he does not whisper. He cries out as if in triumph. And when he sees me, his face bursts into light and he thrusts his arms up to the sky, shouting individual words in his ever-expanding English vocabulary.
“Beautiful! Blue! Sky!” he shouts. “Good! Very nice! Health! Sun!”
“Yes!” I answer. “It’s a beautiful day!”
“Beautiful!” he cries. “Happy night! Enjoy! Good luck for you!”
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it. It’s always one of the high points of my day.
Good luck for us all.