“Ma’am! Excuse Me Ma’am!

lone figure night streetIt was late and I was walking farther than I would have liked to get to my hotel, since, as the woman at the front desk had told me, the gate to their garage had malfunctioned.

“Drive down a block to the city garage,” she had said airily, vaguely indicating a scarcely visible concrete structure a quarter-mile away.

I had made the trek, and parked, and had just finished walking back, past several vacant office buildings and a woman talking loudly to herself with a pair of pants wrapped around her head, when I heard another voice, just as I approached the hotel entrance.

A man was asking a young couple for money. “Hey howya doin’, folks,” he said, stepping in front of them. ”I wonder if you can you help me out here. My momma’s in the hospital up in the next county. Seems she was brought into Emergency. I’m dying to get up there but I can’t afford the fare.”

The Styrofoam take-out containers the two 20-somethings were balancing tipped a little in their hands when they found themselves thus halted, but the ‘asker’ seemed pleasant enough, which is maybe why they paused before politely declining his request and walking on.

Or maybe they paused because it’s human to pause and acknowledge people when they address you.

I know I’ve stopped to listen to an ‘asker’ many times in my life. Once, back in the 80s, when New York City was a far wilder and woolier place, I had a whole line of askers following behind me in Penn Station because, at my own foolish suggestion, they were waiting for me to change a $20 at the nearest storefront.

It’s true I had poorer boundaries back then, but it always seemed to me part of the social compact NOT to barrel along, acting as though you didn’t notice when someone was speaking to you.

I’m not saying I’m some saint when it comes to these things. I’m definitely no saint at the mall when the salespeople at the kiosks run toward me calling, “Ma’am Ma’am! YOU’D like to have softer skin wouldn’t you?” When did we become such a nation of hucksters? I grouse to myself in those circumstances. And why have I become that mall shopper who no longer dares even to smile out at the world but rather keeps her head down and just barrels on past these polished young hawkers?

It troubles me. I miss the open person I once was – and yet I know it’s not smart to engage with just anyone.

I learned this all over again upon leaving that same hotel two days later.

I had my laptop bag and my purse over one shoulder and was dragging my suitcase behind me, when a young man with what looked like a big bag of groceries began approaching me from behind and a little to my right.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw him pull an apple from the bag and kick it toward me.

”Whoops! Could you get that for me?” he said, much closer to me now. “It fell out of my bag and my hands are full!”

But my hands were also full.

And in order to help him I would have to set my own bags down.

Plus: I saw him kick it over to me. I saw him.

He had such a nice smile but it cut no ice with me. I said “Sorry pal,” kicked it back and kept on walking. And what was lost and what was gained in that decision I guess I’ll never know.

Worry Worry Better Hurry

Why does worry loom so large in our lives these days? Maybe it’s all those solemn teasers they put on before the news:  “Cat Leprosy: Will it Jump to the Human Population?” etc.. I bet in the old days people didn’t worry like this. They just spent all their time searching for the food and  pounding the grain and shoeing the mules, then fell into bed the second darkness fell.  You can bet they didn’t need sleep aids OR Valium.

It’s not like that for us.

Me I got up the other day to find my whole body vibrating with tension. How would I ever do all I was scheduled to do in the next 48 hours? Bring a shrimp dish and a salad to the Shakespeare group AND  prepare a passage to read?  Take my elderly uncle out for a ride AND buy his food for the week?  Write the column AND the blog? Meet a friend for his birthday lunch AND finish making the present I had planned to give him? Have a painful treatment for my lower spine which looks like this road sign AND run three high school guys in to the city to tutor little kids? Put in the two hours there, then fight my way back out of the city? Take a health-restoring walk, then dash over to the high school to see the prom kids march past en route to their version of that Stairway to  Heaven evening? See Uncle Ed again and get him food again? Go to a movement class for the pretzel-back (again, see above sign.) Write twice more, try again for that walk  AND THEN HOST TWELVE  PEOPLE FOR DINNER?

But…  I got lucky:  The back therapist postponed our session and the high schoolers had to see to their own studies instead of tutoring others. My birthday friend canceled my lunch and black skies and a tornado warnings canceled my walk. AND, as I came slowly to realize, while I had indeed invited these 12 people to dinner I was doing almost none of the cooking. I just had to cut up some mangoes and make a pot of chili and toss another salad because our honorary kids now living here were doing all the res. Their chunk of the menu consisted of

  • Real fried chicken
  • Home cooked mashed potatoes
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Mac and cheese
  • Asparagus
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Fresh cut mangoes

 Leaving me to just do the chili, the salad, the biscuits, cornbread and the cookies, the latter three of which I planned to buy and then we’d be SET, as indeed we were.

And the moral of this story is?

  • Forsooth, do not sweat what you think you see approaching, for half the time it never comes to pass.

    And also..

  • Live communally if you possibly can, for everything is easier when you are not alone.

chef on the right, sous-chef standing by him