Monday, November 10, 2014

Nothing 2

For the first two weeks, Ben did the same things every day.

1. clean 
2. cook
3. read
4. walk
5. sit

The cleaning was nice, like a present to himself. His apartment was old and crappy and he’d always been too busy to keep it really clean. The old linoleum in the kitchen had a perpetual sticky film over it and the bottom of the white bathtub was gray. He spent all morning scrubbing one thing until it was shiny, vacuuming out the narrow spaces between cabinets, scrubbing old cooking splatters off the kitchen walls. He put on music, or he didn’t, just listened to the sounds of scrubbing and running water. It was like he was bringing out the essence of each thing in the apartment, clearing away the deadness on top of it, making it alive. The air started to smell good like he was living outdoors.  

Then he would make his same food in the newly-clean kitchen. Beans, noodles, broccoli. He decided to start cooking the beans from scratch; he could do that, since he was home cleaning all morning. Canned beans were cheap, but bags of beans were much, much cheaper.  He’d soak them overnight, cook them in his biggest pot with garlic and salt and chili if he felt adventurous, eat a bowl of them while they were still hot and soft. Some day he would learn to make the pasta from scratch, too—just flour and water and maybe egg, should be easy. He usually steamed the broccoli, but now he started roasting it, too, which made the edges crispy and the insides creamy. Sometimes he made Brussels sprouts instead—those were really good roasted—or carrots, or even onions.

Then he’d open a book, sit with his bowl of noodles and beans and crispy vegetables, read for an hour or so. His old thing was eating lunch in front of the computer at work. There were about twenty books on his shelf that he’d bought and meant to read but never gotten around to it. He started with novels, read one each week, during lunch and dinner and a little bit in the morning when he woke up. Sometimes he wanted to keep reading, to pick up the book again after his walk, to spend all evening immersed in the story. But he knew that would be too much. He didn’t want to spend his whole life in someone else’s story; he needed the majority of his time to be in his own life.

After lunch, he’d go for a walk. He’d start out towards the donation box two blocks away, drop a bag of stuff he didn’t need. Then he could go any way he wanted. He’d started out with the cemetery—it seemed like the obvious place to walk. He’d go along the stone paths, through the headstones, read about lost beloved mothers and babies. After a few days of that, he started going to places he’d only ever seen from his car.  Winding pedestrian overpasses, mysterious urban playgrounds, paths through the brush on the side of the freeway where he’d sometimes seen people walking or riding their bikes. It was interesting to be alongside cars, to walk where one was meant to drive, to be slow in the face of so much speed.

When the sun set, he would come back to the apartment, tired, wanting to lie down. He would, for a few minutes, on the living room floor (he liked the floor better than the couch), staring at his ceiling, noticing the patterns in the swirled white paint. Then he’d sit up, his back against the front of the couch.  He would just sit. Sometimes he’d close his eyes, but mostly he’d keep them open. He’d look at his one plant on the shelf across the room. He didn’t know what it was called. It had a bud on it that was growing bigger and bigger. It would probably open into a flower soon. Sometimes he wanted to get up, clean something, read more of his book. Have some more beans from the pot. But no, he had to sit and look. Because this was the most important time of the day. The cleaning was important, and the cooking, and the reading and the walking. But this time sitting was the time when he would learn the most. This was the time he would learn to do nothing. 

Nothing 1
Nothing 3

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