Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In a Krogers PT II: This Really Happened, This Will Happen

An hour passes and she hasn’t called. It’s getting late and I’ve about wrapped it up. I’ve clocked in my thousand words which I try to do every day if I can. I’ve powered down my elderly laptop and put it in the case. The case is a brown leather shoulder bag, sort of an early man-purse I used to lug around everywhere when I lived in Panama. It has soul. I put the mouse and wireless adapter away and chug down the last of my now cold Starbucks coffee.

I keep thinking I should keep a diary, I keep trying, writer’s are supposed to do that somehow, but I realize I’ve changed. I think I was fascinated with myself up to about age 30, and then I didn’t seem so interesting anymore. The less interesting I am, the more aware I become of how connected we all are and of how little control we have over the most important stuff.

The Starbucks in the Kroger’s is never my first choice as a place to write. I usually prefer the Starbucks in the mall or the one near the mall when I can get a table in the shadows of the corner there, but this is Sunday which is a good day for me to write and I have to take what I can get while my wife is at her church and my kid is at work. 

I buckle the shoulder bag and stand up. My feet hurt from sitting, they do that. I throw the paper cup in the bin and take a step towards the glass door and that’s as far as I get – a step.

He’s laying on the floor midway between the Starbucks counter and the flower department. As though he had decided to take a nap among the flowers. He’s spread eagled like a cartoon of a man in blissful peace. Maybe he is, except for the fireman straight arming his chest, breathing down his throat, trying to get the guy’s heart going. Shoppers and Kroger munchkins in blue T shirts with name tags like Wilma and Homer and Bob are standing around watching and instinctively, without thinking, my feet move there too. I have to see. Ray Bradbury wrote a horror story about this thing, this wanting to see, called “The Crowd”. I’m in the Crowd.

Store security waves us all back. Give them room. Give them air. The hell’s the matter with you, let them work.

One the firemen pulls out a couple of cabled paddles from a black gym bag, switches something on and squeezes some goo on them from a tube. I’ve never seen anyone use these before except on TV where the hero weeps and yells “Breathe damn you - breathe!”

The guy with the paddles says something low and the chest thumper fireman laughs a little.

The guy on the floor is an employee with the blue Kroger T shirt and name badge. They yank his T shirt up to his neck and he’s got a big floppy beer belly. If he’s floating up there near the ceiling looking down at his body he’s probably thinking he should have lost some weight.

The fireman zaps him and his body jumps and his belly jiggles and he’s as inert as anything in the meat department.

There’s blue pinball lights in the glass doors and a couple of paramedics come through, authoritatively, not dramatically. You can tell from their faces, from the set of their shoulders they do this a lot. They’re wheeling a gurney with an oxygen tank. One of the firemen stands up and gives them a quick briefing and they zap the poor guy again and his belly sloshes and he stubbornly flops back and lays there. They lower the gurney down and heave him on board –

            One! Two! Lift! (. . .jesus buddy. . . )

          – it takes four guys. They strap him down and put the oxygen mask on his face. I guess that means they got him breathing. I guess. Maybe they do that anyway instead of pulling a sheet over him so people won’t ask, I don’t know.

And I’m thinking – how long was this guy laying in the daffodils over there while I was in my little world pecking away on my story? What the Hell?

Death in the real world is a drab thing most of the time. It used to be a taboo that you never showed sincerely dead bodies on TV but now on CNN you see them all the time. In fiction when a person is dying they go down in style. In opera they shudder, weep, clutch their chest, sing a song and then expire. For most people these days death is put off for a long time. We die the way an old car dies. The fuel pump dies. The water pump dies. The brake cylinder dies. The engine keeps turning over but little stuff dies out from under you until there’s not much left. Little structural failures like the Praetorian Guard whispering in your ear as you ride in the chariot of your own parade – “Remember Caesar, thou art mortal.”

After he’s carted off the crowd breaks up, people shaking their heads, some of them laughing nervously. I wonder if they have any of that German coffee in clearance and I walk off to look, feeling guilty.

What did I just see? Did a guy just die a few feet away from me while I was working on something? It always amazes me a little how the world goes chugging along after somebody leaves. One man’s tragedy doesn’t make that much of an impact. I know someday all this is waiting for me, it’s the only thing I know for sure about my future, same as anybody. I’m not afraid of death, I’m curious about it because I’ve read so much about it. Dying scares me, because it might hurt. The reason we know that is because we see things die. We don’t have any romantic illusions about the act of dying, and we remember the things that we’ve killed ourselves. Even a cockroach wants to live. Sometimes they die bad, like an animal hit by a car, flopping around on the lonesome island of its guts as the cars whiz around it. I’m scared of dying bad. I’m scared of discovering one guy doesn't get missed all that much.

The old Vikings used to think that life was a story.  A good life well lived should leave behind a big dramatic story ending in a send off in a burning boat so that people will talk about you a long time after you're gone.  As long as people tell your story you'll be immortal.  As I get older and have more to look back on I'm beginning to think they're right.  Its not heaven or hell.  Or good or bad.  Or judgement day.  All that passes away.  Maybe what you want to leave behind is a really good story.


  1. Wow. I have a feeling you'll be thinking about this for a long time.

  2. Hello, Garce,

    Is death really a tragedy? I suppose it can be, depending on when and how it happens. "Cut off in the prime..." and all that. But maybe it doesn't have to be.

    A dear friend of mine got ovarian cancer in her early fifties - totally out of the blue. She died in her own home, surrounded by her friends, slipping away. That taught me a lot. First, that death doesn't have to be scary. Hers was peaceful, almost joyful. Second, that every day is precious - every moment is gift. I vowed then to savor and appreciate each one.

    Thanks for a fantastic and thought-provoking post, Garce.

  3. Did you read The Denial of Death back in the mid-70s when it was written? It theorized that all religions were an answer to our mortal terror that someday we will cease to be and there won't be anyone to we "invented" an afterlife to replace the nothingness we fear so much. Marriage is MAN-made so that women will keep their legs crossed except for their one man, so he knows he's leaving his stuff to his DNA, not the mailman's.

    Having held my Dad's hand and kissed my Mom's cooling forehead, I know that death can be quiet...I guess that's what you mean by a good death. I am selfish enough to think the world will be diminished by my loss, but realistic to remember that life went on as before, even though the black hole in my soul from losing my parents threatened to suck me into the vortex of unending grief.

    My husband and kids made me see there were still things to enjoy, still warm bodies to hug, still people who love me. And someday they will miss me, and hear my voice in their heads, with a tear in their eyes.

    I hope that if that man died, he has mourners who won't need to be paid to sob for him. Just as every baby deserves to be loved at birth, every life should be mourned when it is ended. Remembering the happy times and the life lessons will come later.

    Another great, thought-provoking post, Garce! Thanks.

  4. Garce, you are so good at finding big themes in small moments in public places. I would like to believe the man who might have died in the mall had loved ones who would never forget him. I suspect everyone leaves behind a good story -- it's just that not all the stories are known to the survivors.

  5. Hi Kathleen!

    I am. It was such a weird thing to turn around with nothing on your mind and just see that laid out like that. It sticks in your head.


  6. Hi Lisabet!

    I don;t know what to think about it. You know, today I was at that Krogers picking up a prescription and I asked the Starbucks lady how that thing on Sunday turned out - he died. The funeral was yesterday. She said he was 54 years old and went down from a heart attack. He'd only been working there 3 weeks. So I'm guessing they hauled him off dead.

    That's way too young. Working in the deli counter of a grocery store when you;re 54 years old suggests many things, most of them dismal. It suggests a man slightly adrift and starting over. Starting from where? And then this?

    I wonder what death is like for such a person, if they have any regrets or feel their life has been full or maybe they just see it in an entirely different way than the living would. Or maybe its just nothing, just oblivion.


  7. Hi Fiona!

    No, I've never heard of that book. Its sounds a bit harsh. I think religion was invented back in a time before science and literacy when people looked at the world as a magical place filled with mystery and wonder and tried to explain it in symbolic non-linear ways that would seem alien to our more pragmatic way of thinking. Fearing death is something a modern person would do. I suspect more ancient peoples didn;t fear death the same way.

    I do believe what you say about marriage though.

    I have that one fear of death which you;ve just voiced, that there will be no mourners, no one to remember or feel sad. My mother died alone. My dad died surrounded by friends. I don't want to die alone.

    HAng in there.


  8. Hi Jean!

    I hope that man had loved ones who remembered him too. I hope he had mourners and people who miss him. That's the best honor we can give the dead.



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