The dude on Park Street was having a great deal of trouble holding onto whatever it was he was trying to carry.

It looked like either an oversized toaster oven or an undersized TV and it kept slipping from his grip like a greased fish.

He tried carrying it in front of his waist, but the toaster oven/TV thing just slid from his grasping fingers and at one point, threatened to pull his pants down.

He hoisted up his jeans and tried hauling it basket style, but then he couldn’t see where he was going and that caused him to walk directly into a shopping cart some fool had left at the side of the road.

He uttered a harsh bit of profanity. He teetered right, then teetered left, hanging onto the TV or toaster oven with mad determination before regaining his balance like so many Weebles before him.

The hard-breathing fellow set the item down on the sidewalk and stood there a moment, assessing. When inspiration struck, you could almost see it happen. A plume of frost burst from his panting mouth, rose in the cold air and formed the shape of a light bulb over his head.

His red-cheeked face lit up like that of a man who has beheld a divine miracle. Why, that shopping cart was so conveniently placed, surely this could be nothing less than an act of God. Surely the cart had been left in this precise spot so that he could place his TV or toaster oven into it and wheel his way to glory.

He bent to his burden again and hoisted it up, nearly losing his pants again in the effort. With trembling arms, he held the item before the shopping cart like some kind of mad, unwieldy offering. He attempted to ease the appliance into to the embrace of the cart, but the cart wasn’t having it. It began to roll away, fleeing toward the middle of the street like a spooked forest creature.

The red-faced man went after it, red wool hat slipping over his eyes as the TV or toaster oven tottered in his hands. He caught up with the shopping cart and one more time, attempted to drop his load into it.

It didn’t fit. It was too wide for the cart no matter which way he spun it. He tried angling it this way and then that way, working mostly blind because he didn’t have a free hand to pull the hat away from his face.

A woman trying to drive down Park Street honked at him. The hat-blinded man responded with another bark of profanity and again tried to bring the item down into the cart.

No go. The cart started rolling away again and the man scrambled after it. He caught up with it soon enough, but he came in too hot and when his knees banged into it, the cart flipped petulantly onto its side. There was a loud crash, a shudder of metal and one more rasping cry of protest from the overwrought fellow.

His strength completely sapped now, he set the appliance in the street, a little less gingerly than before. With his hands free again, he yanked the hat from his head and flung it aside. He bent toward the street, rested his hand on his knees and evaluated the difficult scene before him. You could see that he’d had enough of the shopping cart by the way that he glowered at it.

He stood that way for perhaps a minute. A pair of kids on bicycles stopped to watch him, got bored after a few seconds, pedaled away. The man ignored them. Once he had his wind back, he stood upright again. He stomped over to the traitor shopping cart and kicked it with the toe of his boot. He did so almost timidly, as if he half suspected the cart might lunge and try to bite him.

With that unpleasantness done with, he bent to the TV or toaster oven again and hoisted it to his waist. Then he lifted it higher still, defying all the mirthful gods of physics and got it propped on his right shoulder.

The weight of it nearly took him down. The now grimacing man took several involuntary steps to the right, nearly crashing into the back of a bread truck before getting this wild balancing act under control. He took a moment to adjust his grip and then started off again, stepping over his discarded hat as he went.

For nearly half a block, it looked like the determined man had the matter licked. He walked evenly for several paces before he started weaving again under the bulk of his burden. He staggered wildly to the right but managed to put the brakes on before toppling into some bushes. He pushed off and forced himself back toward the street, but overcompensated, staggered some more, and started to go down.

There was a honk from another horn. The man with the TV or toaster oven succumbed to the enormity of his load and fell to one knee, no doubt shredding the taut skin beneath his jeans. He winced and the TV or toaster oven slid off his shoulder. It would have crashed onto the pavement, perhaps exploding into dozens of pieces, but he was able to get his free arm out in time to slow its progress. For a moment, it just hung there, trapped between the struggling man’s forearm and ribs, a foot above the cold, hard street.

A few drivers slowed to watch this spectacle. Perhaps they were tempted to offer help to the beleaguered fellow. Perhaps they recognized, in some unformed way, that as it was for Sisyphus, this battle was more about the effort than it was the outcome.

They drove on, leaving the tired man kneeling on Park Street to deliberate alone. Perhaps the thing that was either a TV or a toaster oven had been meant as a Christmas gift for that special someone. Perhaps it was to be a gift to himself, a reward for some personal achievement.

Whatever had motivated him to take on the task of carrying the thing, it vanished unceremoniously as he knelt in the street cradling it. At last, the man let the item go and he did so without any further displays of rage or protest. He simply released his grip and let it drop to the street where it landed, not in an explosion of pieces but with a feckless thud.

The man got back to his feet empty-handed. He adjusted his pants, brushed himself off and walked off without a final glance at the thing he had previously embraced like a lover. He made his way toward Maple Street, turned a corner and was gone.

Not one minute later, an old pickup truck with rust on its panels pulled up next to the TV or toaster oven resting on Park Street. A young woman jumped out of the passenger side, squealing with delight at the up-close sight of it.

She beckoned the driver of the pickup and with his help, had no trouble at all lifting the thing from the street and setting it neatly in the bed of the truck. They drove away, no doubt giddy over their good fortune and wondering what kind of fool would leave such a fine thing out on the street like that, free for the taking.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer and a lifelong student of the human condition. Email him at [email protected]


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