The sun is not yet up, and my son James, 26-years old, is stretching his arms in the dining room.
“Should I get my shoes on?” he asks.
Jim’s dad, Mark, passes him on his way upstairs to dress for work.
“Good morning, Sabu,” says Mark.
“Morning, Dabu,” Jim replies, their own special dialect in play.
I have just poured my first cup of rich dark decaf; I haven’t even pulled my binder from the cupboard to parse out some loose-leaf, pick up a pen, and write my three required morning pages. My slow, fuzzy morning mind churns reluctantly.
“Sooooooo….” Jim says, a question in that one-drawn out word.
And then I remember. Last night, clipping coupons, I’d chopped a page full of great Tim Horton deals into their discrete elements. And I said to Jim, “Hey–we should go to Timmy H’s tomorrow for breakfast.”
“Cool,” he’d said, and I went back to my clipping. I’d been thinking of a meander over to Maple Avenue at, oh, say, maybe 9 or 10 A.M.
Yet here, up and waiting well before 7, is Jim. A whole thought-reel plays in tiny seconds: I NEED to do my morning pages; I haven’t even combed my hair. Everyone knows I need at least half an hour to wake up–and what the heck is he doing, up before the sun? Moms need their morning quiet time. Is the paper even here yet?
And I look at Jim, shining with expectancy. Autism and depression and OCD are all parts of his complex personality. One of his greatest pleasures is eating out. One of his autistic attributes is a tendency to be very, very literal. And last night I said, “We’ll go to Timmy H’s in the morning.”
It is morning. He’s been waiting. I bite off a retort, run upstairs to wash my face, comb my hair, make a feeble attempt at wide-awake presentability. I grab the coupons, kiss the dad, and we head out, James and I, just as the sky gentles into gray.
It is a warm January day, heading up toward an unseasonable 60 degrees. It is raining, the streets dark and shiny. The windshield wipers slap rhythmically, and Jim says, “Want some music?”
“Sure,” I agree, and he says, “Nothing dark though, right?” He pulls up the theme song from The Karate Kid. It’s the score to our trip to the doughnut shop.
Inside, a cheerful but sleepy bespectacled girl waits on us. We do a Laurel and Hardy routine, she and I. I hand her a muffin coupon and say, “Doughnut.” She says, “Muffin?”
“Yes,” I say and order up some decaf.
“Wait,” she says, pushing keys. Then, “Orange juice?”
Actually that sounds good, so I say sure. “Any coffee?” she asks, and I start to laugh. She pauses and then smacks her head.
“Decaf!” she chortles.
Too early, we agree, for effective communication.
Jim, using his coupons, orders a toasted bagel and two doughnuts. He surveys the case carefully, seriously, and asks for a honey cruller and a Boston cream.
“Anything to drink?” asks our new friend, and he requests a Pepsi.
For breakfast???? I think. Doughnuts and pop for breakfast? My teeth hurt just thinking about it, but I clamp my lips together and do not preach. This is not everyday; this is an everyday adventure.
At the pickup stand, we realize brazen inauguration hype is playing on the big screen TV.
“Mind if we sit on the other side?” asks Jim, and I agree wholeheartedly. We get the last table by the window and unload our bounty.
Jim lines his food up–doughnut, bagel, doughnut,–and begins to eat. And to talk. He has a passion for film, and he tells me about one of his favorite producers. This guy, he says, had a story he really wanted to produce, and so he signed an agreement with the studio to direct two superhero films. Then they produced, and he directed, his story which was, Jim agrees, a magnum opus. But the characters in the super hero films were neither: not super, and not, in Jim’s considered opinion, anything resembling heroes.
He crumples up the paper from his first doughnut and muses, while unwrapping his bagel, on why it seems that modern film-makers want to bring super-folk down to the level of mere mortals. He has worked this through, and his ideas are interesting. I nod and ask a question here and there, but mostly I sip my coffee, break my muffin into bite-sized pieces, nibble; I listen as James expounds an evolving theory.
By the last doughnut, he is talking about a screenplay he’d like to write, a story that’s a crossover between two popular, but, on surface, dissimilar franchises. It’s an intriguing idea, and he has thought it out. He knows which characters would be drawn to each other, in friendship and in romance. He has ideas about conflicts and enmities and how a new story would spin out among the characters from oft-told tales.
And then the food is gone, and Jim winds down. “Well,” he says. “Shall we go?”
We stop at Kroger, more coupons in hand, to buy the pizza he’ll cook himself while Mark and I go to a bar association dinner that night. We pick up a few necessities. I stop and pump gas, and then we head to the post office, a few miles across town. Jim plays more music. “Lord of the Dance” is followed by Metallica doing “Whiskey in the Jar,” and then he plays a new artist doing a cover of Night Wish’s “Story Time.” The artist is called Amateur, and a clear, sweet voice caresses familiar lyrics.
Jim’s tastes in music are eclectic and surprising.
I buy stamps and mail a bill and then, windshield wipers fwapping, we head home.
“I’ll get the bags,” offers Jim, and he grabs the groceries from the backseat and runs through the rain to unlock the back door. We schlep in, stomping rain off our feet at the door, greeting the bouncing dog.
Jim puts the grocery bags carefully on the counter.
“That,” he says, “was fun.”
I look at the clock. It is not even 9:00 yet, and we have crossed the morning errands off the to-do list, shared an unexpected treat, had a chance to talk.
“That WAS fun,” I agree, and I look at the kitchen with different eyes. I could, I think, take the aging apples and cut them up to make the kind of apple cake my mother used to make. I’ll use a recipe for Busy-Day Yellow Cake that Jim recently transcribed for me. The unexpected day’s start seems to open up other possibilities, a little healthy perspective-shaking having taken place.
I slice and chop the apples; I throw together the simple, one-bowl, cake batter, and soon the house smells warmly of cinnamon and sugar, flour and butter. What else is on offer, today?
Jim goes off to start his screenplay, and I realize I have all the ingredients for a pot of chowder waiting in the fridge. And I can roast the chicken bones leftover with some veggies and herbs to make a base for broth. The day simmers forth, and I decide to do unexpected things: I put away the outdoor Christmas trees I’d been waiting (Why?) for Mark to take care of; I decide, having just read an article about dust mites, to wash all the pillows. I change the shower curtain and pull the sheets off the bed. I throw laundry in, then head up to finish a book review I’d started way back the week before.
Jim switches from his screenplay to his paid work; he begins to transcribe a new batch of recipes as Frazier re-runs play in the background. Every now and then he roars with laughter; every now and then he calls out a progress report: Five recipes done!
Five more, he tells me, a little bit later.
And the cake bakes and the broth bubbles and the day flows into a wholly unexpected shape, not exotic, not extraordinary, but somehow morphed by the simple expedient of an unexpected start. A lesson to be learned, I think, and a habit to be broken, perhaps.
Certainly, there’s possibility to be pondered, in the transformation of the expected by a different kind of day’s beginning. There’s a lot of energy generated by adventures in ordinary time.