18 April 2020

Memento M(ug)ori

I woke up this morning, but unlike Jim Morrison at the roadhouse, I did not get myself a beer. Instead, I had coffee. Smarter choice, that. Pandemics may change the rules. It is reasonable to assume that does not mean open containers on a morning drive are suddenly okay. I will admit that the thought of surveillance video showing me swigging on a forty while getting my cash made me laugh. Safe bet that would end up on the internet in no time. Andy Warhol whispered “fifteen minutes” in my ear. Tempting? Yes. Smart? No. The drive to the bank would be dry like Moore County.

Dry from alcohol, that is. Coffee was a different matter. My usual morning beverage of choice is black tea. Today the gray and drizzle made a persuasive case for a cup of strong black comfort, so I poured it. I like the sound of demerara sugar sliding off a spoon. Sweetness like gentle rain. A few slow sips are the ballast to the chop of the morning. I set a spell, savoring, then poured the remainder into a travel mug for the short drive. Stepping onto the porch I felt breeze on my skin, cool air filling my lungs. A round little wren perched on the worn wood fence. It cocked its head to peer at me with consternation. I tried to show I was no cause for alarm. The bird, like me, understood caution as a motivator. It flitted off to join some cousins in the shrubs across the street. 

Leaving the neighborhood for only the second time in a month felt like an overdue vacation. The weather was less than sprightly, a mottled silver-gray sky letting go a soft drizzle. Hands on the steering wheel shone like Wedgwood china. Nitrile has a way of catching the eye and troubling the skin. At least it would save me some time in the teller machine line. Funny how a touchscreen could be the stuff of bad dreams these days. Literally could be a case of your money or your life. Or is it your money now, your life later?

That thought troubled me only a little as I drove, mask dangling from the rearview and swaying gently. The blue and white cotton seemed muted compared to the nitrile. Putting it now felt like wrapping my face in fear. Anxiety and prudence slugged it out behind my eyes. Anxiety was putting up a good fight, but I sensed prudence planning a knockout once I had to open the window. Mama hadn’t raised no fool. The mask would be worn.

I was in a mood, as the kids say these days. When in a mood music is a frequent accompaniment to the noise in my head. Today was no different. I had plugged my phone into the tuner, set to play on an album that had recently caught my attention. The music was from 1995. Memory of it had bobbed up from the dark water of mind a short time ago. It played in my head incessantly until I gave in and bought it. The album unspooled through the speakers to land on my favorite song1. Alone in the car, the volume upped to borderline discomfort, I sang along loudly and badly. The steering wheel morphed into an impromptu drum kit. Bass thrummed through the seat. I could feel the crunch of power chords in my mouth. It was good.

I was alone at the drive thru teller, too. A good thing in the face of the pandemic. I looped the mask strings over my ears. The touchscreen presented itself with corporate anonymity overlaid with distrust. There was no accounting for how many hands may have touched it before my arrival, nor for any cleaning that may have been done. I rolled down the window. The card slid silently into the slot. My blue left hand typed its way through all the screens. I wondered all that time over probabilities, disease vectors, and low-level fears. The sound of the bills extruding from the machine was surprisingly cheerful. I took the money and ran.

Driving home I had the song on repeat. The volume a little louder, the singing a little more amped up. That coffee graced my gullet, sips taken with gusto between stanzas. The drive back home seemed a little less fraught. The landscape was a little less threatening. I did something I had not done in ages once I pulled up to the curb in front of my house. I put the car in park to finish listening to the song. Volume down some, of course. I had no desire to annoy the neighbors. The song faded out. I finished the last of the coffee. My eyes teared up at the sight. This mug was a gift from my daughter years ago, adorned with artwork of her creation. What it lacked in technical brilliance it more than made up for in exuberance, in wonder. It shone in the pearly light. The mood stirred again. I absorbed the colors of the mug. It came to me that if I am blessed to be treated like a pharaoh when I depart this mortal coil, this mug is coming with me into the afterlife. It has to, holding as it does a piece of my troubled heart.

1For the curious, the song was “Stars” by Hum. It is in heavy rotation.