I walk down to the co-op, several blocks from my home, for coffee and a few groceries that I’d managed to not pick up for at least a few days in a row now; instead I’ve been ravenously consuming the news more than anything this days, outraged and broken by the senseless murder of an innocent man, George Floyd, by an officer not worthy of his badge. Lake Street in Minneapolis is a war zone; the riots jumped the river this morning and now Midway, St. Paul is ablaze as well. Rumor has it Lyndale, Hennepin, Grand Avenues, and other neighborhoods are bracing for the fever pitch. Blaring car horns and helicopters are a constant, if distant, background noise, punctuated frequently by sirens wailing in all directions. I take long, deep breaths as I walk down the eerily quiet streets of my neighborhood. At the same time our twin cities are burning by fires sparked from transgressions that run generations deep, I can’t help but notice how intense the lilacs’ fragrance is even as they’re withering on the branches, how the late afternoon sun can illuminate everything, as though glowing from within.
May 28, 2020
When I get to Lyndale, I notice that Hams Liquor is boarded up, ditto for Super America across the street, the tattoo shop across from that. A group of masked people walking ahead of me turn into the co-op lot, then turn back out, “it’s closed,” they shrug as I approached. “Oh well,” I sigh, “I kinda figured as much.” I turn around and take a different way home, along Lyndale to 24th. A sound of drums rumble down the avenue, rat-a-tat-tat—I strain to see where they’re coming from—a protest parade, lead by a drum corps? That wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen in these strange days. I’m looking so hard for a marching band, I almost don’t see the old minivan creep closer and closer, then pull into the auto shop lot before me. A desperately flat tire is hanging on for dear life of the rim of the front wheel, rat-a-tat-tatting against pavement like a set of drums. A man hops out of the driver’s side and runs up to the shop’s front door where the open sign is still alit from above. I ask the woman jabbing an index finger at her cellphone in the passenger side, “Is everything okay—do you need help?”
“We got a flat, just need a tire iron to get the tire off—I think we can get one from these guys,” she says out her open window, just as the man returns and says to her, exasperated, “They’re not open, either.” Her jaw drops at the same time her shoulders slump.
“I’ve got a tire iron,” I offer, “I mean, I live a few blocks away, so it’ll take me ten, fifteen minutes or so—” The woman’s tired face lifts slightly. “You serious?”
“Yeah, no problem, I’ll be back as soon as I can,” and take off at a faster clip than my former meandering pace, toward home. When I arrive, I flip the tailgate of the Jeep up, pry off the lid to the tire compartment, heave the spare out of the way. Shit. No tire iron. I drop the tire back into place. I swear there was one in here…I message my neighbor-cousins to see if they have a tire iron; while I wait, I heave the spare out again—maybe my tire iron materialized in the time I took to text my cousin. Nope. Just as Kurt walks out the front door a few minutes later, I suddenly remember where the tire iron is stashed—underneath the back seat. “Found it!” I wave to Kurt as I take off.
The couple is still in the parking lot, hubcap lying on the pavement, the rust-trimmed van propped up with a flimsy jack that looks as though it could snap with one false sneeze. “Still need this?” I ask. The woman’s skewed face smooths out into a small smile when she sees the tire iron in my outstretched hand. God, can I be any whiter? Translucent in the late afternoon sun, blue veins run like rivers along a relief map of my arm.
“Oh god, thank you—this started out as a bad day that got only got worse at every turn! We stopped at so many places along the way, we asked so many people, even people out on the street, all we needed was a tire iron, no one had one…we got diapers and milk at Marissa’s on 28th, but no one had a tire iron there.” Her companion takes the iron and gets down to work. “He knows what he’s doing, he won’t take long,” she says.
“Don’t worry about it,” I say, “I have nowhere to go and all night to get there.” We make small talk as he worked, she has small twins at home, they needed to go out for milk and diapers, had to travel all over the city in search of a store that was open, the Target on Lake where they usually go is out of commission. I say, “Well, I was down to eating popcorn and tuna so I thought I’d wander down and get a few groceries, taking the chance they might be open, but no luck. I’m glad I took this way home or I would have missed you.”
“My God, tuna and popcorn? That’s it?” she’s horrified. “You hear that?” she says over her shoulder to her companion, “This lady says she’s only eating tuna and popcorn tonight!” She turns back to me,”I’d buy you some groceries, if anything was open, you poor thing!” I laughed, stirred by her concern for me. “That’s so sweet, but really, it’s okay—I’m not starving or anything, just lazy.” In no time, the tire is changed, “Thank you, god bless you,” the man says as he hands back the iron with a brown arm embellished in blue-black hieroglyphic ink. The woman steps toward me, then stops and says, ‘I really want to hug you, but I know I probably shouldn’t, everything in the world is just awful right now. I’m sickness-free, and I’m so happy you helped us so we can get home safely. please, can I at least shake your hand?” We shake hands in a tight, lingering grip (when was the last time I shook someone’s hand, much less hugged? I wonder), then climb into our respective old vehicles, waving and shouting, “Be safe out there,” at each other before parting ways. I take a deep breath of smoke and lilacs wafting through my open window.