“You need to calm down,” Wendy, my close friend for thirty-eight years, told me. She knows me well.
I’m an anxious person on a good day. Bring in the coronavirus and it’s a worry-party in my head.
“I know,” I said. “I just needed to get one last thing.”
“I need them for my chicken marinade.”
“I doubt the market will run out of lemons,” she laughed.
“Fifteen frigging lemons. What was I thinking?”
It was last Thursday, the day the Coronavirus panic really started to hit. I’d just dropped Tucker, our puggle, at doggie day care bright and early. Hank and I kept our plan to fly to Park City that morning. I was uneasy, though. We didn’t need to go. Alerts on the phone had been hour-by-hour the past several days. Yet, I was still in that denial phase. The media is overblowing this whole thing…I take care of myself…have always wiped everything down…
A bad feeling had come over me, though, after the Oval Office speech the night before. The powers-that-be had no plan or real grasp of the pandemic at this point, or how to deal with the growing numbers of infected citizens. And, seemingly, no real designated plan to help stop the spread of it.
“I can’t go,” I told Hank when I came through the door with Tucker’s leash in hand.
“Totally fine,” he’d said. “I’ll call Delta.”
Hank came into the bedroom some time later. “Delta’s phone line is jammed. Tells you it’s the right decision.”
I was talking to my sister, April, on the phone. “Heath, you’ve always had good intuition,” she chimed in. “Follow it.”
“I hate to be an alarmist,” I’d told her, “but this thing is mounting. Hank and I are in the 60-plus demographic. And, I don’t have enough food in this house for self-containment!”
“Heath, you only eat lettuce,” April teased. “and maybe some chicken. But, Hank. Now, he needs food.”
First stop was a market on the LA’s west-side that has the best meat in the city. I got there early, sure to be ahead of the game. Who was I kidding? I was greeted with a harried parking attendant wearing a surgical mask directing traffic in a jammed parking lot.
Inside, mayhem. Like every market since, it was cart-to-cart in the tiny aisles, empty shelves and this one was down to two packages of chicken! Horrors! What will I do?
Next, was another market closer to home. Same scene. Shoppers scrambling as if they were on “Supermarket Sweep” filling their carts to the brim, items stacked high like building blocks.
The rain had been pouring steadily that Thursday, the 12th and I’d noticed a leak from the driver’s side window panel in my car separating the window from the windshield. Now my jeans were soaked.
My car is less than six months old. A leak already? A call into the dealership and I got a slot and a “courtesy” rental car.
“You mean, I don’t have to book days out like usual?”
“Right now,” she said, “it’s a ghost town in here.”
I left the dealership at 5:45pm in my “courtesy” rental headed home. Wait, I thought. One more stop. Manic me. There’s always one more stop: the lemons! How can I make my marinade without them?
I headed to Ralph’s on Colorado Blvd. across from The Norton Simon Museum. The rain hadn’t let up and not a spot to be found in the lot except one in the annexed part against a wall on the far side of the market. I grabbed my credit card and car keys and dashed to the entrance; the hood of my raincoat soaked, dripping rain drops onto my face as I pulled it back entering the store.
I navigated my way through the crowd of shoppers to the produce department. There they were. Lemons. Beckoning me as if they were framed in Instagram hearts.
A friend spotted me in line at check-out. “Ok,” she said, “Let me get this straight,” she laughed. “You are in thisline here for lemons?”
“It’s a thing,” I told her, only slightly embarrassed. “Gotta have ‘em. I forgot them earlier.”
Fifteen minutes later, I returned to my rental car. The window had been smashed, glass everywhere. My handbag, gone.
Drenched in the downpour, I stood in disbelief. No way. Why the hell had I left my purse in the car?! Sh**t, I know better. The whole day had been a day where nothing seemed routine or normal. Still…
A man two cars away glanced over at the shattered window and the sea of glass at my feet. “My God, are you ok?”
“Yeah,” I lied. “Just rattled. Did you see anyone do this?”
“No.” He was carrying two bags of groceries. “I’m so sorry.”
I reached into the car carefully, avoiding the chards framing the window to retrieve my phone which they hadn’t taken and called my husband, Hank, at home just a few miles away.
“Call the police to make a report. I’ll be right there.”
“Ma’am,” said the operator. “We’re a bit busy right now. It’ll be a while.”
It’s a rainy night at rush hour. Of course.
“At least this has made me forget about the Coronavirus,” I told Hank when he arrived. He pulled a parka for me from his car after I’d told him that I was cold.
Assessing the scene, he went back home to retrieve a long brush and a dustpan. “We’ll need it to clean up the car after the police see the damage.”
After standing under the covered entrance to the market a little over an hour, Officer Armendariz from the Pasadena PD arrived.
“I’m so sorry to make you wait out here,” he’d said. “Just got off a home burglary.”
He pointed his long police flashlight into the vehicle as I told him what had happened.
“My wallet had everything. My drivers license, credit cards, two debit cards,” I told him. “Ugh, I never carry that much with me. I just switched wallets.” I stuffed my hands into my pockets to warm them, adding, “Been calling the credit card companies and the banks while I’ve been waiting.”
“Good. You have much cash?”
“Hmmm, maybe a hundred?” I told him, as he picked up the heavy-duty dustpan and brush to clean the glass after the Police report. “Losing all that. That’s not my worry. I’m scared the thief is going to rob our house now that he or she has my address.”
Officer Armendariz cleared the shards from the window frame. “Just keep an eye out for the weeks to come.”
“Scares me,” I replied.
“Look," he said, standing to face me, holding the brush. “I work the Homeless Outreach Program here in Pasadena. Most of these type thefts are for cash. You’re probable alright. Just be diligent.”
“We’ve an alarm, lighting…Heck, it’s lights, camera, action if an intruder comes to our house at night. But they have their ways…” I stopped, looking at him hunched over inside the car, broom and dustpan in hand. “Wait, Officer, you don’t need to clean all of that glass.”
He wouldn’t hear of it, as he finished up the seat and the floorboard. “It’s fine. Just doing my job.”
A younger woman whose car was parked next to my rental, hesitated eyeing the policeman. Her cart was overflowing with bags. “Hey, what happened?” she asked me.
“Someone broke into my car.”
“What’d you have on the front seat? Toilet paper?”
I burst out laughing. “Thank you… God, needed that!”
“No, seriously,” she said, smiling. “It’s nuts in there.”
Once the police report was complete, the glass cleaned up, I backed out and turned onto Colorado Blvd. As my headlights sliced through the early evening darkness in my now-open-air rental, I checked my rearview mirror. With no one behind me, I slowed to 25. I needed to take this all in. Something the Officer had said: “These are difficult times. Desperate people do desperate things.” “And,” he’d added, “it may get worse.”
Did I really need fifteen goddamn lemons? Had I gone that crazy? Caught up in the I’ve gotta have this! And, I need that?
I pulled into the garage and as instructed, opened the car door carefully to avoid loose glass inside the frame. Ahh, I thought. Nothing.
I closed the car door and a cascade of loosened glass fell to the garage floor.
Once again, I stood fixed on the glass as if it were tea leaves warning me to pause.
Life is as fragile as this glass.
Calm down, Heather. Calm the f**k down.
Don’t be selfish.
With that, you will know that you are doing your best.
***A shout out to Officer Armendariz in the Field Operations Division of the Pasadena Police Department. Thank you, Officer, for your kindness.
And, for your service to our community.