Photography © Chad Parenteau
Pound of Sanity
“How about a pound of sanity?!” I couldn’t tell if he was joking. It seemed like everyone was on
edge. He took his zip-lock bag from the deli counter and left. I was there for a pound of roast
beef and a half pound of Swiss cheese. That should get me through the week.
“He’s an asshole” said the woman working there. Quick, sharp and blunt. What I’ve come to
expect at my weekly trip. A few weeks before, she asked me how my day was going. “This is it,
so far” I honestly replied. I get up and go. Get it over with before I’m completely awake. Unpack
the groceries with coffee and plan the day. I asked her how her day was. “I woke up and I was
here,” she commiserated. I felt guilty when she ended the conversation, “Don’t work too hard” as
she handed me the meat for my laid-off lunches.
The asshole looking for sanity was still storming through the store when I knocked over a
container of grape tomatoes. They spilled all over the floor like the marbles in the hypnotizing
roller racetrack in my childhood doctor’s waiting room. No one saw it happen. Panicked, I kicked
them under the refrigerator full of chicken parts. The Nature Sweets deserved more glory in
their demise. Who’s the asshole now? I thought, as I became conscious of my hypocrisy. I
checked off everything on my grocery list. Consumed with guilt in the check out line, I paid.
Drove home. Unpacked. Coffee. Made lunch.
Rainy day boredom.
Grabbed my umbrella and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Joe was on his porch
smoking a cigar. It’s similar for him. He lists off his day so far. ”I got up early” he told me. “Had
breakfast, watched a movie, ate lunch, had some cookies and now I’m out here smoking. That’s
it buddy” he said, letting me know that there are days like this. Some weeks are a succession of
days like this. We’re both wearing shorts and zip up sweatshirts. Its October. Seasons changing.
Weather talk. “You can do more in warm weather,” he laments and points out the concrete
cracks he’s been filling in on his porch. He’s waiting for the sky to clear up before mixing any
more cement. Joe’s in no rush. He has a cigar in his mouth and another in his front pocket.
“What type of cigar is it?” I ask with honest curiosity. He didn’t know. His wife buys them for him.
She orders them from a catalog. Checks the boxes on the list. Sends the form. And they come
in the mail. He took the cigar out of his mouth and peeled off the label. Like show & tell, he held
it up for me to see, “Famous 365.” Seemed fitting for this year full of days. Joe’s patience is
conflicting with my hunger. Conscious of my hypocrisy, I go home to eat. I had made my
sandwich hours ago. Wrapped it in wax paper and foil and leave it on the counter. Rare roast beef,
green leaf lettuce, halved grape tomatoes, red onion, red pepper on scali bread. A simple
sandwich is much more flavorful at room temperature.
Joe’s cement has set the tone for the afternoon. Slow and grey. Restless.
Fill in the cracks and wait. Eat and walk.
I bump into Butch. He’s limping from his steps to his car. Earlier in the week he had an ace
bandage wrapped around his knee. “I fell off the back of a truck,” he told me. I couldn’t tell if he
was joking or if he was searching for sanity. He told me that although he’s walking funny it’s
getting better. Progress is a mystery, I thought. For the first time in a while he wasn’t wearing
shorts. Pants for a change. “I’m nervous about the weather” I said. “What am I going to do when
I can’t go on walks or ride my bike?” He said. “Hibernate.” That’s all he had for me.
The day progressed and the sun was creeping out. Bright, warm and in my face. Approaching
the intersection a huge rainbow sprawled over the road connecting the 7-Eleven to the baseball
fields. Where did summer go? I was honestly happy to see it. I usually scoff at such sentimental
symbolism, but right now the temporary colorful streak in the sky was a welcome sight. Aware
that things don’t usually clear up that quickly. Sometimes they storm away like an insane angry
man. Or rot like grape tomatoes kicked under the fridge.
Don’t work too hard. You hear it all the time. Maybe its not advice but more of a caution sign:
Do Not Enter. I’m heeding the warning. No purpose in ignoring it.
Joe’s patience. Butch’s limp. Rainy day walks. Progress is a mystery. Moving at the speed of a
slow burning cigar.
But, it might add up to a pound of sanity. Go home and pour the good scotch – aged somewhere between 12 and 18 years. A gift received 3 months ago. I had been waiting for the right reason to open it. Get through the day. The scotch is here now.
Gregory Power is an unemployed hospitality worker. He started writing to keep sane during the pandemic.
Chad Parenteau is Associate Editor of Oddball Magazine.