While caregiving for my mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s, a trip to the grocery was a treat—a break. With no time for myself, this brief excursion took on an almost philosophical dimension.
Waiting aiting in the checkout line, the express lane of course, (fewer than 15 items,) the latest issue of a popular home and garden magazine here in California jumped out at me from the magazine rack. I was immediately taken back to entering a garden design contest sponsored by the magazine while in high school.
It had been a frustration. There were budget problems, time constraints, and the backyard redesign was only half completed by the deadline. A staff photographer, a sort of eccentric with thwarted artistic ambitions, came and, embarrassed, I showed him about; the Mexican paver patio, the fire pit made of Padre bricks, the redwood deck that was only half built and had a slight rake to it due to a mistake in measuring with the plumb line.
I didn’t win, and thinking back on this, an unresolved haze of feelings enveloped me; the ambition to enter the contest and frustration that I didn’t quite pull it off, another in a long string of personal projects that always seemed to fall short.
In a brief glance looking out the window, I saw the sun was lowering. The shadows were long and purple in the amber light of late afternoon.
I then thought of all the houses that my uncle, an architect, designed that appeared in full color spreads in that magazine. Beautiful wood and glass homes perched on view spots in places like Laguna or Newport Beach. It was my ambition to be an artist and live in a house/studio like my uncle designed. I never penciled out the economics of this dream, that an artist’s bank account couldn’t cover the cost of the house, but the dream was both a motivator and a carrot hedging me along.
Browsing through the magazine while waiting for the checker, I reflected a bit. The magazine seemed to be a slick lie, a sanguine, feel good fabrication. The events of my life were not reflected in the magazine. It didn’t show the deep disappointments like not being accepted to Stanford after having been placed on the admission’s waiting list. It didn’t talk about the psychological scars from childhood sexual abuse that prevented me from developing an intimate relationship. It didn’t discuss rising property values, values such that I couldn’t afford to live in the community I grew up in.
What did it reflect? A dream, a mirage, an idyllic life of food, wine and economic prosperity that now seemed out of reach for more and more people. “Fuck that,” I thought as I put the magazine back on the rack and the checker started ringing up my groceries asking for my discount card.
I looked out the window. A brown haze of smog colored the sky with ambers and oranges as the sun set behind the rooftops of the housing tract that I grew up in.
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