It began with a closed bakery.
The Liguria Bakery in San Francisco, founded in 1911, sells only focaccia. I learned about the place on social media, from a colleague who posted a photo of a delicious looking raisin bread. I miss a chummy workplace, where you learn this sort of thing leaning on someone’s desk after returning their stapler. But this isn’t a pandemic story.
After swimming this morning, I drove to the bakery, hungry and excited. Just yesterday, my naturopath advised me to limit my white flour intake to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. But I would limit my white flour intake another day because also yesterday, I had to put my kitten to sleep.
Upon discovering the bakery was closed, I drove away frustrated. I nearly plowed into a Mini Cooper driven by a woman in a baseball cap who didn’t see the stop sign. It was raining just enough to warrant windshield wipers but not enough so they wouldn’t squeak. Sighing, I turned on the radio. Cyndi Lauper was on. Confusion is nothing new.
At the next intersection I spotted a market on the corner with a chalkboard sign promoting mushroom coffee. “You won’t believe it!” the sign read in cursive. The naturopath had also mentioned mushrooms. I could try the coffee, and maybe a muffin. I grabbed a tote bag from the trunk because we also needed a few groceries.
I didn’t see a basket, so I used my own bag to collect a few things. Milk for the kids, eggs, soy sauce, and coconut cream because it came in a pretty tin. By the time I approached the counter to order my mushroom coffee and muffin, I had forgotten about the items I was carrying over my shoulder. It was only after I returned to the car that I realized I had just stolen my groceries. I sat in the front seat, sipping my coffee, deciding what to do next.
I recalled the last time I stole something. Many years ago, a package was delivered to our house, and I opened it to find two cute t-shirts I didn’t order. When I flipped over the envelope, I saw it was addressed to a house up the street. I kept the shirts, even after a curious teenager showed up at our door asking politely for a package meant for her. I lied to a child. I only wore the shirts under sweaters because I was worried the teenager would see me. When my husband discovered my secret, he was disturbed by my excuse. “It’s too late. I opened the package so I’m keeping the shirts.” I assigned blame to a brown envelope and refused to accept responsibility. A shocking amount of time went by before I admitted I was wrong. My husband used to bring up Operation T-Shirt from time to time, until I instructed him that this was an Unmentionable that he should take to his grave.
“Excuse me,” I said to the man who had made my mushroom coffee. He was frothing milk and said loudly, “Hold on.” I waited, holding my tote bag. “Coffee ok?” He looked surprised to see me again. I nodded and said, “Surprisingly good actually.” Then, as I unloaded my bag onto the counter, I added, “I inadvertently stole these.” He hadn’t heard me because of the mask. “I stole these,” I said loudly. “I’m sorry.” The petite woman in the yoga pants waiting for her drink looked over at me. I suddenly felt self-conscious about the oversized flowered coat I wear after swimming.
He finally understood. “You didn’t pay for these,” he said, wiping his hands on his apron. Yoga woman pulled out her phone. “Correct,” I said, putting my credit card on the counter. After the transaction, I put the items back in my bag, nodded at the woman, and scurried to my car. I removed my mask, took a sip of coffee, and looked in the rear-view mirror. My swim cap had left giant creases in my forehead.
A close friend and I leave each other daily voice memos. Topics range from unwanted body hair to death and dying. Recently, on the couch in the dark, I listened to her describe her upcoming evening. There would be pasta, and cleaning, and possibly a shower. She was looking forward to spending time with her husband, who had been busy all day shopping for fertilizer and installing new smoke detectors. She yawned and said, “After dinner, we’re going to pop on a program.”
I paused her message and repeated the phrase. Pop on a program. How fun to say. The words felt like a sip of sparkling water. It is a delightfully nostalgic expression, from the era of video cassettes and DVDs. Program sounds even more old fashioned than show or movie. Pop on a program is perfect.
The next morning, floating on my back in the Bay, a flock of pelicans flew overhead. The clouds were moving fast, and the sky was streaked orange. I said it over and over. Pop on a program.
Driving home, I vowed to use the phrase in a story. Or maybe in the new book I’m writing. The husband could say, “Let’s pop on a program,” and the teenager would roll his eyes. At home, I wrote it down in my little brown notebook.
That night, my husband and I watched an episode of Succession. Two minutes in, I realized I missed my chance to say, “Let’s pop on a program.” I sipped my tea loudly, regretfully. My husband will never know how clever I am.
If anyone had asked me what I did that day, I would say I went swimming, attended a work Zoom, and worked on a jigsaw puzzle with my daughters. I would not say I spent the day thinking about pop on a program. What did you think about today?
Today I’m thinking about something I noticed when I lived in Perth. If you ask an American, “How was the movie?” they will say, “It was alright,” or “Bruce Willis is handsomer than I remembered.” If you ask an Australian the same question, they might respond, “Just over two hours,” or something describing the actual structure of the film. How means something slightly different there. If you ask me what I did today, I’ll tell you all about it.
Cup of Jo, December 16, 2021
My mother was concerned and texting me about her elderly dog. I asked if he was breathing and no, Wilbur was not breathing. He had collapsed soon after peeing. I told my mother to put a towel over him and I would be there as soon as possible. It was already a busy day. My novel was coming out in two months and I needed to respond to emails before picking up the kids from a local park. But trouble worships at the altar of inconvenience.
Later that night, after transporting the corpse to the vet, I found the lump in my breast.