With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Morning Coffee Out Back

After a night of bad sleep, I woke up before the alarm and lay in bed, staring at the changing digital numbers. Deciding to have that first cup of coffee before I showered and shaved for work, I stumbled downstairs, took my favorite mug out back to the deck, and began my day.

My townhouse development is not too far from the highway, so from over the hill comes the incessant sticky swish of rolling rubber and the occasional whine of an anxious, fast truck. In the afternoon these same noises remind me of coming home tired from work and being stuck n commuter traffic, but in the morning they make me think of going places and seeing people and new things, camping and vacations and bad coffee on a misty sunrise at an unfamiliar gas station. In the mornings, somewhere in that soothing stream of traffic I can hear my future explorations.

The highway sound is just the background, the back beat rhythm of the morning song. There’s usually a car pulling out of the development with its radio leaking out a window, doors being shut hard and followed by footsteps on the sidewalk, a child calling her dog and the dog barking at some bark-able item, and the ugly birds in my backyard. Grackles, I think they’re called, and they make surprisingly horrible noises, like little alien machines possessed by something demonic. They’re balance, though, for the little Disney tweeties that visit my neighbor’s birdfeeder and the mourning doves that coo from their telephone wire perches. The calls of the birds, their fluttering to the feeder, the clicking of the squirrels and the scratch of their claws on the tree bark: all blend together with the slight snare drum brush of tree leaves stirring under an intermittent breeze. Mornings are far from silent, but thankfully they’re full of quiet sounds. I sipped my coffee and imagined a sappy cartoon where in some tiny clearing in a forest in view of a tall city a silly rabbit uses his ears to conduct an orchestra of plump birds and much too cute baby animals.

I exchanged g’mornings with my neighbor, also out on her deck, and then I watched her lose control of her newspaper when she tried to re-fold the comics page. Sheets fell, slid off her table, and dropped to the deck. She looked at them lying at her feet, but she reached for her coffee instead. I like her.

I was sitting on the top step at the end of my deck, surveying my realm, all 10 feet of it, when who saunters into my domain but Spike the Cat. He’s a big ol’ furball from across the street who likes to give me dirty looks on his way to lurk beneath the birdfeeder. I watched him carefully pick his way through the grass, in and out of loose shade from the trees overhead and patches of light. Low-angled sunlight is the best, morning or evening. My grandma used to point it out to me and say, “Butter light is better.”

With my elbows on my knees, I looked down at my bare feet and the wood grain of the deck steps. I was wearing my old heather-gray sweats, the hard-to-find old style with a drawstring instead of an elastic waistband and an old T-shirt, bought while on vacation years ago and now showing a few fingernail-size holes and frayed hems. I enjoy wearing my suits and ties, and I’m perfectly comfortable in them, but they’re clothes and a persona that I put on for whatever fine reason. My old sweats and T-shirts are what I wear when I’m at home, when I’m doing absolutely nothing but being me. I can’t remember the specifics of any particular good day or night had while wearing these old clothes, but whenever I put them on, I certainly do feel a hint of the mood of several years’ worth of relaxed times.

I sipped from my mug, remembering who gave it to me and when and why. That was years ago, and I still use the gift frequently. The second but higher function of all possessions is to hold memories.

From the next townhouse building came the aroma of grass cut the night before, and I thought of the two million lawns I mowed as a teenager. I pictured the old grass-stained brown leather boots I had then, and the swallows that flew crazy circles around me to hunt exposed insects as I worked that big yard on the hill, and my high school friends . . . my high school friends. Time flies.

Thinking of time made me think that I should probably get ready for work. As I stood up and stretched, I looked up at strong, dark gray tree trunks supporting living canopies of brightly lit green leaves that partially screened a clear and very blue sky, and I thought no, no, can’t go in to work yet: it was time to enjoy another cup of coffee.

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