Sometimes You Just Need More Hands

It sat in a bag on the floor of my garage for years, along with six bags of sand. After our Writers on the Edge group folded four years ago, as the last writer standing, I inherited this folding booth we bought to sell books at the Farmer’s Market. Get it out of my garage, said the woman who used it last. So I moved it to mine.

The bag looks like a golf bag, even has wheels, which is reasonable because the dang thing weighs more than my 75-pound dog.

One day while cleaning my garage during the COVID shutdown, I decided to take it out and set it up in my back yard. It would be fun to sit under the canopy enjoying the shade on a hot summer day.

This turned out to be another thing that’s nearly impossible to do alone, especially with my exceptional mechanical ability. It took me two days to set up my tent. Plus an extra trip to the chiropractor. I’m still celebrating replacing the spark plug in my lawnmower. I have a broken window blind hanging catawampus and a kitchen cabinet door also hanging awry. I ordered new curtains yesterday. Screwdriver in hand, I stared at the cabinet door for a while and decided I’d better call a professional.

But okay. Setting up this booth couldn’t be that hard. Other writers did it. I slid it out. White legs, blue cloth top. I carried it out to the far reaches of the lawn while the dog watched, curious about what her crazy housemate was up to now.

One two three four legs on the grass. Great, now push and lift and . . . nothing. There must be a trick. Were there instructions in the bag? No. Wait. A sticker on one white pipe said, “To open, hold and lift here.” I held, I lifted. Nothing moved, except maybe the beginning of a hernia. I pushed, I pulled. I raised the legs. I lowered the legs. I turned the whole thing sideways and upside down. It remained about four feet by four feet and about up to my neck as the cloth top flapped in the breeze.

Sweating, I ran in to trade my sweatshirt for a tank top and to check YouTube for instructions. They were there. YouTube has everything. So here’s these two guys in khaki pants and polo shirts, one on each side. They pull apart, lift up, and bazinga, there’s your booth. Apparently, this requires two people.

BUT I found another video for how to do it alone. Here we go. This guy put the booth up in his patio. He kept saying it would be easier with two people, but he seemed to have no problem. Legs, legs, legs, legs, get underneath, push, fasten down your canopy, and bazinga, here’s your booth.

Okay. I went outside, tried to get underneath. Lifted, pushed. Nothing moved.

I kept having this fantasy of someone showing up at my gate. They’d call, “Yoo-hoo!” and I’d answer “yoo-hoo!” back and invite them to help. We’d get it up, so to speak, in a jiffy, then sit in the shade on my plastic chairs, sipping iced tea or beer, whichever suited my helper.

It’s very quiet out here in the woods. Visitors are unlikely during these COVID times. I saw nobody but the dog, a butterfly and assorted bees. I surrendered. I toppled the structure, stuffed it back into the golf bag and shoved it under the table on my deck.

Meanwhile, I got my clippers and my leather gloves, forced open the stuck gate the gardeners had somehow forced open the other day and started clipping bushes like a madwoman, tossing vines onto the dog hovering nearby. She refused to move. Gosh, I was best entertainment she’d had in weeks. Somewhere under 20 years of wild growth was a raised garden bed bounded by yellow-painted brick. When we first moved in, I grew strawberries there and tried to grow vegetables—they were eaten by critters. Maybe I could try again. I was feeling the urge to garden.

Something bit my arm. Something snagged my leggings. I knew it was ridiculous trying to push back the forest. I didn’t care. I needed to accomplish something, preferably outside, away from the Zoomputer. When the compost cart was full and I could see a nice clear patch of dirt and enough brick to sit on, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t get the gate to latch so I stole a green bungee cord from the golf bag and wrapped it tight around the posts. Then I lay on the cool grass with the dog. It felt so good I considered staying there forever—or until winter, whichever came first.

How did you spend your Sunday?

 

Are you afraid to do things alone?

Ingall, Christine. Solo Success! You Can Do Things on Your Own. St. Albans, UK: Panoma Press, 2017.

I find this book annoying. Who ever said I couldn’t do things on my own? The author begins with the assumption that the aging female reader is suddenly alone via divorce, death, or an empty nest and has no clue how to do things on her own. She assumes the reader is terrified to go out for coffee, see a show, or even take a walk by herself.

Seriously? Okay, I do know women who whine, “I have nobody to go with,” but I don’t think most of us are that helpless. Nor do I think we need page after page about how to make a list of things we’d like to do and more pages of congratulations after we do them. The few pages offering practical tips for various activities are helpful. Don’t carry a handbag on your walk, for example. Do carry a leash, even if you don’t have a dog, so people will think you do. Bring a book to read when you’re dining alone. Overall, the book is shallow, extremely British, and makes assumptions that are not true for most of us.

Or are they? I have been doing things on my own since college. My work as a newspaper reporter required that I venture out with just my notebook and camera for company. But I never thought “I can’t go because I have no one to go with.” Sometimes I would rather not go alone, and sometimes the lack of a companion expecting me to show up has led to me deciding at the last minute to stay home. But I can venture out on my own and I do. I don’t have a husband, children, or nearby family, and my friends are married and busy, so off I go.

Movies? (The very British Ingall calls it “cinema.”) My first husband was never around. I got in the habit of going to movie matinees alone. Remember the Century Theaters in San Jose? Cinerama? There might be a dozen people in the theater for an afternoon show. It’s easier to immerse yourself in the movie when you’re not competing for popcorn or the armrest with the person beside you. Sure, there’s nobody to talk to about it later, but at least you get to see the movie on the big screen.

Live theater is less comfortable, especially before the show and during intermission when you’re alone and everyone around you is in a couple or group. Read the program and relax. They’re really too busy talking to each other to pay you any attention.

As for dining out, some places are more solo-friendly than others. Feel free to reject the tiny table in the corner and ask for a better spot where you have room to read or check your email while you’re waiting for your food. If you sense you’re getting poor service because there’s only one of you, go somewhere else next time.

Walk alone? I do it, but I avoid walking in the dark. I keep my hands free and my eyes open. I have my phone ready to dial 911. Usually Annie is enough discouragement for human predators, but when she’s not with me, I know I have to stay alert. Have I had any bad experiences? Yes.

  • I was grabbed at night at an ATM in San Jose (don’t go after dark!). I cursed, punched the guy, and ran. Luckily he seemed to be too stoned to follow me.
  • One night after an assignment in downtown San Jose, a guy followed me several blocks as I headed toward my car. I made a quick change of direction and scooted into the newspaper office, where there were lights and other people. My mistake that night was carrying so much camera gear I couldn’t run or defend myself.
  • A guy in San Francisco came up behind me asking for sex. I told him to F— off and merged into the crowd crossing the street.

Stuff happens. As with a mountain lion, make yourself as big as you can and yell. A good “Fuck off! can be quite effective. But again, use common sense about where you walk alone and have a plan to get help if you need it.

Last week I wrote about joining the Newport Recreation Center and swimming alone. I am used to swimming alone in motel and hotel pools. Often I’m the only swimmer and keep expecting the “pool police” to kick me out. But what am I supposed to do, go knocking on doors asking people if they want to swim with me? No. I just swim.

The author of this book makes a big deal about being afraid of being “visibly alone.” Is that an issue? Do people look down on folks, especially women, traveling through life alone? I guess I have felt that sometimes. But I’d rather travel alone than not at all.

How about you? Do you feel free to do things on your own? Not just grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, but fun things like going to shows, eating out, traveling, or going for a walk? What would you not be comfortable doing alone? Why?

Do you have any advice for people flying solo?