It has been a warm and lazy autumn this year, the frost held at bay. The trees still have a firm grasp on their leafy dressing although they are changing from green to firery fall colors. In spite of yesterday’s strong winds few leaves are scattered across the ground at the park but their dry scent is in the air.
In the center of the playing field stands a teenage girl, her feet surrounded by a ring of bulging plastic bags. Her arms bend at the elbows and her hands cover her mouth as if in surprise. She looks around as if waiting for someone to rescue her. But after a few moments she bends down and grabs several bags in each hand and lifting them walks across the field.
For whose help might she be waiting? What cargo is she carrying with such reluctance? What is in those heavy bags, I wonder. Is she a street girl in the making, her bags holding what is left of her memories? Or is her burden more prosaic? Groceries, perhaps, although the nearest store is two long city blocks away?
When she reaches the pathway she stops again, her arms now stretched out long and straight, the bags hanging so low they almost touch the ground. She again looks to the right and left, pauses for a moment then continues down the path that leads out of the park.
As she disappears from my view I hear a voice shouting and when I turn see a middle-aged man with a long blond ponytail and shabby clothes pushing a shopping cart brimming with the flotsam and jetsam of his life. He angrily protests the sanctity of his inalienable rights to the occupants of the patrol car that is closely herding him down the parking lot toward the road.
“Is that what you’re gonna’ do? Follow me until I leave,” he yells, putting out a hand to steady his wobbling cargo. “I served my country now I can’t get a god damn break!” A rusty station wagon entering the parking lot swerves around him as he crosses the street and heads towards the creek. A woman gets out of the car and opens the rear hatch releasing the heavy bass beat of music from the local radio station.
She reaches into to the interior of the car, rearranging a variety of cardboard boxes and bundles. Then leaning against the rear fender, she lights a cigarette, surveys the scene and spots a young man with two dogs straining at their leashes. “Them pit bulls?” she says, squinting against the smoke in her eyes.
The dogs swivel their heads in her direction, legs stiff and trembling. “Yes,” he says as he drags the snarling dogs away from her and stuffs them in a nearby pick-up truck. “Sure look like a handful,” she answers, then flicking her cigarette into the grass, turns with a smile to greet two old ladies who are approaching.
“How are you girls today,” she says, as the two old women push their matching walkers into the park in step and in unison. They wear wooly handmade sweaters accented with bright yarn flowers, thick soled tennis shoes with wing logos and old world kerchiefs around their head.
“I got some real deals for ya’,” the station wagon lady says pulling something from one of the cardboard boxes and waving it towards the old women. “No want, no want,” they exclaim waving their hands in dismissal and continue on their way chattering in an unknown language.
When the black man with the blue jacket carrying a fishing pole and orange tackle box passes her, the station wagon lady pulls a boom box out of the car. Walking beside him she loudly complains that the friend who owes her money has not arrived yet but she can offer him this practically new radio for just a few dollars. Shaking his head, the fisherman picks up his pace and heads towards the pond.
The woman throws the radio into the car, walks to the park exit and with her hands on her hips looks north. When I pull out of the parking lot I pass a young girl standing before the open trunk of her car sorting through a pile of clothing and sports equipment. Why is it, I wonder, do we all carry so much stuff around with us.
In fact, there is a whole industry now that is built on storage – special boxes and drawers and chests and lockers and units to keep the things we once consumed but now cannot swallow. We pay others to keep what we do not use but cannot let go of.
We all have baggage – old stories, old dreams, old memories, old prejudices, old thoughts – and we carry it with us from place to place and job to job and person to person like luggage on rollers. Conscious of our burdens yet unable to release them – we carry our past with us if not in our cars or in our homes, in our souls – we then look for others to share them. But when we compose our online criteria at match.com we demand that ‘no one with old baggage’ need apply.