Monday, March 14, 2011

A Shiny Penny

With the time change I decided to take an early morning stroll through the park. There’s a great deal to take in at 6:30 when it’s still dark; such things as the stillness of the tricycles strewn out in front of 20, the remnants of a Sunday bbq at unit 5; I really should turn him on to some decent beer, the thick pieces of chalk in every color of the rainbow left broken in the street where space 30’s kids drew Martian figures and rainbows on the asphalt, and the gathering of the cats in the carport at 19 where Penelope feeds every damn feral cat and all of our ‘domesticates’ too every morning, claiming she “needs to give back.”
I love this place before the residents rise and start to roar.
Today Greenline is coming to perform its bi-annual septic extraction. The thought that 35 units are all hooked up to just 6 tanks gives me the 'willies' and then some. The main one at 11 is the one that usually “blows” before the scheduled pumping. I do believe it’s because of 14’s baby wipes, 12’s tampons, 22’s diapers, and 19’s love of paper towels.
Penelope has lived here since the beginning of time, I’m told. She lives alone, well except for those hungry felines that make the arduous journey to her unit from the surrounding hills and valleys each morning. Penny has been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I know this because when I became manager of this “little piece of heaven on earth,” it was just one of the important “tidbits” her neighbors felt compelled to share with me.
I have had only one interaction with Penny. You see my cat Frida was one of the recipients of the Kibble and Bits and I went down to ask Penny to kindly stop hosting a soup kitchen from her carport because it was not only drawing strays and wildlife to the park, but also pets like mine, who were now indulging in her food line and then eating again at home. Frida was in fact putting on the pounds.
During this conversation in her kitchen, which smelled heavily of bleach and Pine-Sol, I noticed she was both unable to give me eye contact and also unable to stop cleaning her countertop while we talked. Her speech became flustered and her body language agitated. I realized I wasn’t playing with a full-deck the instant she started frantically ripping paper towels off the roll and meticulously folding them, one by one, making sure the corners and edges came together perfectly. By the time I left, there must have been an entire roll off the tube and neatly folded in a stack like fine linen napkins. Penny is a woman of routine. She leaves every morning at precisely 9:00 am to visit her mother in an assisted living facility in Salinas. She returns at noon and watches her soaps. At 1:30, during the commercial break, she fixes herself a tuna salad sandwich on white and a glass of milk.
At 3:00, she vacuums, dusts, wipes down the cupboards. At 4:00, you can see her with a baby blue plastic laundry basket walking down the street and up the hill to the laundry room. At 5:45 she makes dinner. Penny walks the park every night at dusk. Dressed in a cream-colored sweat suit and wearing large headphones, she does somewhere between 25-30 laps. I imagine her listening to John Denver or Jim Croce but I’ll never know for sure.

Walking here in the wee hours before daybreak, I am enveloped in gratitude today. Do you ever just get a slap of thankfulness and you didn’t see it coming?
I mean a sense that it’s your life and it’s a good one; that it has a balance of hardship and ease, of pain and joy, of solitude and action. I have all this and much more this morning. It feels Zen-like in a strange way today, even if my peace originates in a damn trailer park.

Here’s to solitary strolls, gratitude and a caring pause for those who are less fortunate.


  1. You just make me chuckle Valerie Fern! But most of all I got that SLAP of gratitude for YOU this morning!

  2. I got that same sense a few months back walking Cannery row at about 6:30 AM. I could almost see it 50 years ago. More often than naught we can find that sense of peace and gratitude right around home, if we but only look. Thank you Val!

  3. Right back at you, Shem! Thank you both for reading, savoring and sharing! -tpg