07 June 2012

the transit of venus {part 2}

“I didn’t like today,” I told Miss Daisy as I put on her harness for her evening walk. She looked up at me with her big and sad eyes and then sneezed on my hands.

“That didn’t help, baby pug,” I sighed, opening the apartment door and ushering her out.

Once outside, everything changed.

How could it not? The late spring evening sun was giving the world that golden glow. In its light, nothing could remain wrong for long.

Suffused with the sun; that’s what you could say.

On my street, a whole row of ash trees were cut down recently. The emerald ash borer, that pernicious pest that has thrived in the Midwest, had gotten to them, and the city, in one day, had cut down an entire history of trees.

They used to line the street and lead the way, I though, to the big brick library: Books this way!

But without the ash trees, both sides of the street were the sunny side. So much harsh optimism and glaring concrete without those tall, generous but infected trees. The day the city had cut them down had come as a surprise (why didn’t they tell me? I could’ve said goodbye), and I’ve been quietly mourning their loss ever since.

My street does not look like my own, and it’s somewhat like having gone to the salon on an impulse, cutting off your long hair for a pixie cut because you’re tired of being weighed down—and then jumping back in shock every time you look in the mirror because the person there is not who you expected.

But my sunny side street soaking up so much spring sun—was a sight for a sore soul. The grass was a deeper green, a green that belonged by a glade, not by a parking lot. The little trees the city had planted to replace the ash trees looked hopeful and promising in that sun, as if they were endearing kindergartners standing on their tippy-toes to appear older.

Miss Daisy and I turned down a side street: she sniffing that deeper-than-a-green-glade grass with her curly tail wagging and me starting to let frustrations—at my to-do list, at the presidential election, at the day—melt in that golden sun.


Just down the street, a man and a woman were setting up lawn chairs in their front yard, as if to watch a parade.

“Yes, but Maggie,” the man was saying to the woman, plunking down his chair, the metal clanging on the sidewalk, “we don’t have the time for that. Tell your mother—”

Here they saw me coming, little pug sniffing and wagging, and the man’s tone changed. This big man, who looked like he may have been a linebacker at some point, said in the voice you use talking to small babies, “Well, there’s a cutie! Maggie, look at the pug! Look, she likes me! Yes, you like me, don’t you, pug? You’re wagging your tail—oh, yes, is that a good spot for me to scratch?”

Whatever Maggie was supposed to tell her mother—whatever tense line that man and woman were about to dance around—was forgotten in the scrunched-nose face of a pug. That’s Miss Daisy’s typical effect on people.

A little boy of maybe 6 came running out of the house. “A pug! A pug! I have a pug, but it’s a toy. Can I pet your real pug?”

“May I pet your pug?” his mother—Maggie—prompted just as his father prompted, “Please. Remember to say please, please.”

The boy (in a blue striped shirt that hung too big on him, having been bought, I’m sure, in a size he would grow into by the end of the summer) looked up at me. “May I, please?”

“Of course you can—may,” I self-corrected my word choice since my mother wasn’t there to prompt me. “This is Miss Daisy, and she likes to be petted behind the ears.”

The boy tapped Miss Daisy twice behind her ears, as if he were a magician planning to turn her into a rabbit or a white scarf. “We’re watching Venus,” he said—perhaps to Miss Daisy, perhaps to me.

“Oh? Venus?” I glanced at his parents, hoping for an explanation of this. Was Venus a dog? A baby? Another toy? His parents busied themselves setting up a table with drinks and snacks next to their chairs.

“Yeah, Venus. It’s going across the sun right now!” The little boy pointed up at the late spring evening sun.

Out of instinct, my eyes followed his finger, looking up, and an older man who’d come out of the house next cautioned (or was it a chastisement?), “Well, for Pete’s sake, don’t look at the sun! You can’t see Venus like that, and you’ll burn your eyes.”

This man—in his 70s and wearing a Grand Canyon t-shirt tucked into his jeans—carried a telescope. With confident ease but with careful movements (how many times has he done this?), he began setting it up at the end of his driveway.

“It’s the transit of Venus tonight: didn’t you know?”

I pulled Miss Daisy back from getting too close to his telescope, now pointed right at the sun. “No, I guess I didn’t know,” I admitted, wondering why NPR had not covered this fact instead of the unemployment rate. Transit of Venus sound more lyrical, more mystical, more beautiful than numbers.

“Oh, boy, are you ever in for a treat! Let me get all set up, and then you’ll see something that you won’t ever see again. It won’t happen again until—”

“2117,” the little boy finished for him. Clearly, the man had been educating his neighbors.


And tomorrow: the actual transit.

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