Charlie and I had our first post-hospital outing this morning—to our favorite place in L.A., the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax. We started with yummy French Toast at DuPar’s (Charlie’s choice) and then went outside to watch his friends the bakers in the big picture window that opens up into the restaurant’s kitchen. We’ve spent hours watching the two young bakers, a Hispanic man and woman, make DuPar’s fabulous pies, brownies, donuts, bear claws, and other pastries. Charlie is fascinated and could literally stand there all day watching every step of the process.
This photo was taken a few weeks before Charlie went into the hospital when the expert bakers were putting the final touches on a large number of pies before carrying them into the giant walk-in oven. The bakers and some of the other cooks there know Charlie very well and seem to enjoy his utter delight in their every move. They always smile and wave to him even though we’ve only ever seen them behind the glass. The reaction of the bakers this morning when they saw Charlie's bandages on his head caught me so off guard that it made me tear up. As they were rolling out pie crust and cutting apples I could see their initial delight in seeing Charlie for the first time in several weeks (we usually hang out at that window at least three times a week). Their eyes suddenly widened when they saw his bandages, their smiles frozen in place, and then they both looked at me and then back at him with such compassion and concern that it tore me up. I wanted to break through the glass and tell them what happened, to assure them that Charlie is going to be okay.
The same thing happened when we visited one of Charlie’s other regular stops, Magee’s House of Nuts which has been in the same location for over 60 years. There’s a great photo above this vintage peanut butter grinder of President Eisenhower on a visit to Magee’s and gazing at the newfangled machine. Marta, or “the peanut butter lady,” as Charlie often calls her, asked me what happened and I told her the story. She then gave Charlie not one, not two, but three heaping sample spoons of their freshly made peanut butter which he devoured with abandon.
On normal days we would never visit Bob’s Donuts on the same day we had DuPar’s French Toast (I do have some limits!), but since today was special and Charlie wanted to go to Bob’s (the best donuts in L.A.), we sidled up to the counter and experienced the same reaction of compassion from the “donut ladies” who, I have to admit, also know us quite well. Charlie tore through a rainbow sprinkles donut and I noticed concerned looks from the other morning regulars that we see nearly every day but rarely speak to, from the old ladies that are always there with their shopping carts to director Paul Mazursky and his table of writers and actors. Yes, it does take a village, and my village happens to be Farmers Market, an L.A. landmark that opened in July 1934. Who knew?
As Charlie was polishing off his donut, a young Russian family sat down at the table next to us. They carried trays from Moishe’s, the Middle Eastern stand and they had two little boys who were both wearing Superman capes, one silver and one red. The younger boy, who looked about half Charlie’s age and was wearing the red cape, starting running all over the place. Perhaps as part of his superhero fantasy, the tiny kid zoomed at top speed across the area where we were sitting and kept jumping up in the air as high as he could, landing so hard on the cement ground that I worried he might have seriously injured himself. The first few times he did this I stood up in my chair to make sure he was all right, waiting for the tears to start, but he just got up smiling, would run back to his oblivious parents, and then do it again and again. There’s no way Charlie would ever fall flat on his face like that on hard cement and get up smiling. Was this kid superhuman?
Then I started thinking that even before his two bedridden weeks, Charlie could never run as fast as this kid who was so much younger than him. It’s not like I ever forget about Charlie’s physical delays caused by the same intraventricular hemorrhages that led to him needing the VP shunt that was just replaced, but I’m with him all the time, and it sometimes take the contrast of other kids to make me realize the extent of his differences. When Charlie has friends over at our house and I see them bounding up our very steep staircase, not holding on to anyone’s hand or even the banister, it makes me feel sad for Charlie that he still can’t do those things. Not that he seems to mind, and he'll get there eventually, despite his current setback.
Every year we have to get Charlie evaluated at the Regional Center here in Los Angeles because of the physical therapy he still receives, and last time they said he was in the 99th percentile in his cognitive abilities and the 50th percentile physically. “Oh, you mean like every member of my family?” I joked, thinking of the smart but klutzy genes he’s inherited. But for some reason watching this tiny Russian kid careen around Farmers Market like a whirling dervish, it brought it home in a new way.
Still, walking through the market with Charlie and seeing how beloved he is by so many strangers whose heart he’s touched in some way, I felt like we were in an MGM movie where everybody was about to break into song and lift him high in the air. Charlie may or may not ever win a marathon, but he’s got a quality that is far more valuable than Olympic gold.