If Paul had known what was going to happen, he might not have brewed the coffee. First, let me tell you that Paul has taken to brewing me a special blend of part caf, part decaf in the mornings. He doesn’t just brew the coffee. He takes pains to make sure that it stays hot. He heats my thermos with boiling water before it holds the coffee. He heats the milk so that it won’t cool down the mix. He sets the thermos on my bedside table, and while 30-44 degree (Fahrenheit) water gets pumped around my left hip and leg, I enjoy the fact that I am drinking something hot.
Sounds loving and innocuous, right?
Last Sunday, after my usual coffee, I was ready to ditch the four walls of my bedroom. I wanted adventure, intrigue. . .well, not quite. I did want to go to church, and nine days after surgery seemed as good a time as any. Don’t laugh! It is amazing what a surgeon can accomplish with an inch-and-a-half incision for a camera and another for the robotic equipment. Ten years ago, mine would have been an open procedure with an eight-inch footprint and I would still be knocked down.
Instead, I was making strides, pun intended. But could I handle a building with more stairs? Did I have the stamina to be out and about? Church would provide a decent test case and give me some information about how quickly I might be able to return to work.
I’m not going to lie to you. I broke one of my rules. I wore sweatpants out of the house. They were nice straight leg black sweatpants, nothing but the best that Land’s End had to offer. Let’s face it: sometimes practicality trumps dignity. I needed a comfortable outfit, something that would not rub against my stitches.
“Don’t worry,” reassured Paul, “The most noticeable thing about your outfit is your crutches.”
On our way to church, it was smooth sailing into the Lincoln Tunnel. We slid through our favorite lane, the one where the black curly haired lady flashes us a smile of recognition and pushes the “carpool” button before we even ask for it.
We should have been suspicious at 43rd Street and 10th Avenue where we usually turn north. The street was blocked to traffic, but it looked like it we were being diverted to the Westside Highway. We crawled to 11th Avenue, only to find that we had to turn south and make a loop past the Javits Expo Center before finally arriving at what seemed like the home-free highway. We were still hopeful.
Finally, the reason for the delay was obvious: the New York half marathon. Runners in all kinds of garb pattered down the promenade. Some wore green tutus, other had corporate shirts. Some wore fancy running gear; others were dressed more or less like me, minus the crutches and the brace. At least there was something of interest to watch.
Traffic inched north toward 44th Street, and the NYPD was out in full force. They directed us to turn east on 44th. We were heading back toward where we had started 20 minutes before.
I began to regret the coffee. Minute by minute, I regretted it more. I shifted in my seat. I watched the runners, who from my vantage, were stopping at a water and Gatorade station. I wondered where they stopped on the route when nature called. Before long, I hated them for running. I hated them for blocking the way.
The traffic lights went green. We progressed a foot. They went red. We waited. Ahead, drivers pulled alongside policemen who shook their heads and pointed east. It wasn’t looking good.
“You seem a little out of sorts,” said Paul as he fiddled with the radio, trying to find the latest traffic report.
“I have to pee.”
“Oh. I think that we are at least a half an hour from that. Unless you want to stop at that diner on the next block?”
“I’m on crutches,” I replied, with not a hint of patience or kindness in my voice. “I can’t get out and navigate around the traffic.”
Ten minutes passed. I began to eye the plastic bag on the tray next to me. Is it possible to pee into that bag without exposing myself to the boys or anyone who happens to drive next to us in an SUV?
Surely this was a puzzle that I could figure out. I loosened the brace around my waist.
“How are you doing?” asked Paul.
“I’m trying to figure out how to pee into that bag.”
As I ripped at the velcro, Paul grasped the severity of the situation. I could almost hear his heart rate picked up. His eyes scanned the streets.
“You know what? I think that we can turn south on 9th Avenue. Just take me home. I’m sure that there won’t be traffic leaving the city. Please just get me out of here,” I grumbled.
My rational self waved goodbye. Paul made suggestions. I barked at him. I’m not proud of it. Sometimes a full bladder can wreak havoc on a relationship.
As we came up upon 9th Ave, Paul turned south, put on his hazard lights, drove us a hard left into the bike lane, and parked. Right in front of an Empire Coffee and Tea shop. I couldn’t even laugh at the irony. I concentrated on making it through the next five minutes.
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen Paul move so fast. He flung open the driver-side door and left it open with the keys still in the ignition. He ran into the coffee shop, and cut to the front of the counter.
“Hey!” I yelled after him, “For crying out loud, someone could car jack us!”
I grabbed the keys out of the ignition and watched him through the glass store window, both grateful and annoyed.
“Do you have a public restroom?” he pleaded.
“Sorry, sir, you’ll have to go down the street to. . .”
“No, you don’t understand,” Paul said, “My wife is on CRUTCHES. WE’VE BEEN STUCK IN TRAFFIC AND SHE REALLY NEEDS TO PEE.”
I imagine that he pronounced this reality with the same intensity as “SHE’S ABOUT TO HAVE A BABY.” I imagine that silence prevailed in the coffee shop.
Apparently, even the staff of Empire Coffee and Tea, hardened by the bathroom requests of tourists, felt Paul’s panic. They agreed to share their “Employees Only” with me.
I thunked my crutches up to the door, where a kind patron opened it for me. I could tell by her understanding smile that she had heard the whole thing unfold. In fact, as I looked around the room, I could see that everyone in the coffee-devoted Sunday crowd knew my plight.
Squeak. Step. Step. Squeak. Step. Step. Squeak. Step. Step. Squeak. Step. Step. I made my way to the back of the store to the holy of holies, the inner sanctum of the coffee store.
It was a great relief.
And that was how I came to buy two pounds of coffee and give the employees the biggest tip of the day.
We did make it to church, right about the time communion began, so I was able to make not one, but two conspicuous entrances. It had taken us more than hour and a half in total to go a few miles.
So I raise a crutch to my knight in the icy blue Honda Oddessey, now that my rational self has returned. Thank you for all of your kindnesses.
Now I’m in a quandary. I have two pounds of really great coffee. My knight is trying to make me promise that I will never drink coffee on a Sunday morning again. Maybe he’ll settle for me listening to the traffic before I take my first sip?