The seagulls are in from the pristine lakeshore to feed off trash in the Costco parking lot. I follow a BMW SUV that spews emissions into the atmosphere. I fight other shoppers for a parking space. After a few minutes, I find a spot near the entrance, which gives me a false sense of accomplishment, like when my stepson hits the leaderboard on the video games he plays all Saturday afternoon.
When I enter Costco, I flash my membership card like a badge, and a middle-aged woman in black-rimmed glasses nods. I push off on my orthotic insoles towards a travel ad on a flat screen. I’m greeted with Maui beaches, elephants on safari, picturesque caves and mountains, the interior of cathedrals and blue-eyed teen twins wearing the traditional garb of whatever local culture is connected to these waterfalls. I push the baby stroller. My wife, three steps ahead of me, pushes the giant cart that could hold enough food to stock up a bunker.
Long lines of people with a bored, flat effect. The bodies go through the motions, numbed by rows of cardboard boxes, inflatable Santas, and replicas of birch trees three months before Christmas. I’m ok with my own mildly anxious stupor. These moments are never transcendental.
I park the stroller next to an ocean of bottled water halfway to the landfill, halfway to carbon dioxide. The words “natural spring” make me think of some creek in New Zealand no one knows about. I wait here while my wife goes hunting for boxes with thirty-two Coke cans in them, fully cooked bacon in the freezer, 1.36 kg of decaf coffee, packs of succulent plants.
A man, maybe fifteen years older than me, stops to ask about the baby in the stroller. My newborn is the same age as his granddaughter. His daughter must be a generation younger than I am. “You have a great adventure ahead of you,” he says, without regret or irony, as if he clearly sees the tapestry of incidents that will blindside me or take me by surprise. The man, though in his sixties, still has a gleam in his eye. I wonder what he went through: if there were trials that threatened his good health and charm, if the waters were smooth all the way home. If retirement and the beginning of old age was a kind of home, like Odysseus returning to Ithaca. That’s what this man’s bearing suggests, comfy in his Birkenstocks and khaki shorts, his green fleece jacket. His gray beard is a little less neatly trimmed, I guess, than the days when he punched the clock. “How old is he?” he says.
I want to tell him I’m a late bloomer. Someone rushes past with her cart, zigzags through the congested aisle of frozen pizzas and vegetables. Instead, I say, “He’s three months old.”
I want to tell him I always evaded adventure, that at fifty, I look back now not unlike the way he does. The past with its horizon cuts off half a lifetime beyond the skyline. I want to say all the life events that I could have side-stepped, the ones I successfully dodged, except for the newborn boy who looks up from his car seat. I finally found my life partner at an age where most are sitting in empty nests. Then the baby came. Now he looks up at the two men stopped for a moment to chat, the ancient gesture of checking in with the young. Would I love to see a grandchild born? Will I find my way home, the way this man has, in his bones, smelling of the world he has passed through?
I wonder irritably where my wife has wandered. One thing leads to another with her: potstickers to tiramisu. I’m not sure if our love has changed for better or worse. “Very cute,” he says, with that glimmer in his delivery, like one who wonders quietly about the fact of his being alive to this world. He leaves without salutation. I watch him vanish past the boxes of avocados. I’m full of questions I keep to myself. My wife returns with a loaded cart, and we start for the checkout line. There’s nothing adventurous about politely fighting for position while looking for an open lane, but I’m sure that’s not what the man meant.
In the car, I turn on some music to calm my fussy baby. The words turn the world into sound: a gravelly voice says something about how you sink or swim in this world. Swim.