‘Utility’ by Jack Garrett

sc june 18

For a week I wore kneepads. Seven days, wherever I went. Put them on first thing in the morning, seat of the toilet, took them off last thing at night, edge of the bed.

It began with a realization. Whenever my knees came in contact with a hard surface––as they did once a week when I scrubbed the floor under my bed––sharp pains would shoot through them. The pains while not constant were frequent, inescapable, and the most acute recurring pain of my life. Was there something wrong with my knees? I don’t know, but they felt just fine when they weren’t grinding against linoleum-covered concrete.

So I bought kneepads, a nice pair, durable, professional. More than I expected to pay, but I figured they’d last the rest of my life, and amortized over that span they were reasonable enough. Of course, that’s when I was figuring on only wearing them once a week for chores.


This was by far the longest time I’d ever spent scrubbing under the bed, so you can imagine the job I did. But beyond that, the feel of closed foam cushioning snugly strapped to the largest joints in the human body heartened me. The task complete, I rose and went to the kitchen area for a tangerine, and as I walked from here to there, I noticed my gait was transformed. I’d always been a plodder, but now––propelled by flexed elastic––I moved with a kind of martial rhythm, foot snapping forward with each stride, something between a march and a coy swagger. I caught a glimpse in the full-length mirror: even my posture seemed improved, which given that I’d just been hunched and frog-spraddled under the bed was pretty remarkable.

Peeling the tangerine, a natural air freshener, I went to my window. The asphalt below gleamed black and empty, the neighboring light manufacturing blocks reassuringly muted, beige. The brown hills beyond rose into a hazy late-morning sky, beginning to burn off to blue. I felt healthy. Went up on my toes, stayed there a moment, came down on my heels. I wanted to go outside. This was rare; not that I didn’t go outside nearly every day of the last fifty years to run some errand, perform some task, arrive someplace else. But to go simply to have gone––out beneath a sky that hung overhead like an inverted sea, gravity the only float to keep me from falling in––didn’t happen much. I felt I could sail the world on the soles of my feet.

So I kept the kneepads on. Put my pants on over them. Looked in the mirror. Took my pants off, took the pads off, put my pants back on, and the pads over my pants. That was more like it. Took care to pull taut any bulges in my pantlegs above the pads, then seeing that looked too studied, pulled little bulges and folds back into them. Too puffy now. Tried again. Could’ve saved myself the trouble. Simply walking back and forth to the mirror a few times restored the bulges and tucks to my khakis that legs in natural motion conferred. Or so I told myself.

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