This is something that happened Thursday morning in Cambridge. At about 11:30. Something quite wonderful, considering it was really nothing much.
I turned off Massachusetts Avenue onto Lee Street, looking for a parking space, and found myself stuck behind a city garbage truck. The truck was bright orange, called The Works. Two men were picking up, toting, dumping—one each side of the street. The man working the west side was small, silver-haired, with silver-rimmed glasses. Assistant-clerkish, except for bulging forearms and a don’t-eyeball-me look on his face. The other was monstrous ugly, in a nice way: a cross between Jaws (in the James Bond movies) and Fernandel (the late French actor who played Don Camillo). Long, slouchy, strong, lazy-limbed body. Took his time with the containers, lifting them with slow grace, never slamming anything or tipping it in anger. Though there was an expression of distaste on his face, a “this job literally stinks” look. After taking care of half of Lee Street’s east side, he paused outside a house with a garden. Looked up and down the brick sidewalk to make sure he wasn’t being watched; checked the house windows; then, with care and determination, lifted his long right leg and hopped into the middle of the deep street-front portion of the garden—mostly big flat leaves, but colored blossoms too. (Marigolds? I couldn’t tell.) He crouched down, down, further down, and suddenly plunged his face into the biggest leaves and breathed—inhaled them, not coming up for at least half a minute. When he did, his expression betrayed nothing, neither pleasure nor guilt nor watchfulness. With a poker face he stood, backed considerately out of the garden, and returned to his work. I thought that Flannery O’Connor had got it right—this is where everything begins: with the senses.
From the literary journal Fourth Genre (Spring 2001). Subscriptions: $15/yr. (2 issues) from 1405 S. Harrison Rd., Suite 25, Manly Miles Building, East Lansing, MI 48823-5202.