rolling along

Posted on: September 29, 2011

One of the most interesting things to come out of my working at Harvard was discovering that I lived right next door to one of my co-workers. Which should tell you something about the interest level of most happenings there; people’s eyes tend to widen in awe when you tell them that you work at Harvard – it never seems to occur to them that there are entry level jobs at Harvard too, and that they can be every bit as tedious as entry level jobs in a school they’ve never heard of.

Mary and I didn’t realize we were neighbors until after my first stint at Harvard – when I was a full-time temp – had ended, when, after completing one of the variety of errands with which I filled those happily unemployed summer days (unemployment only becoming sad when it stretches into winter), I passed her coming out of her house just as I was heading to mine. And even though we hadn’t really even been work friends – which I guess is obvious, since we’d never discussed where we lived in enough detail to discover the answer was “right next to you” – we had a good laugh at how we’d worked together for 6 weeks and only were discovering this now. And when I resumed my employment with Harvard a few weeks later – as a part-time term worker – whenever someone new asked me where I lived (which, now that I’m thinking about it, seemed like maybe it happened more than it needed to), I would always make sure to mention that my house was right next door to Mary’s.

Of course, Mary and I could only play the “we’re neighbors!” card so many times before it got old, and our work relationship usually consisted of greetings in the morning, farewells in the evenings, and not a whole lot in between. One day, however, Mary asked me a question:

“You know the woman who roller skates down our street every morning?”

I’m sure you can imagine how happy it would have made me to respond to that question in the affirmative, but instead I could only express disbelief that Mary, in all of our japes and jests about being neighbors, had never mentioned this before. I gathered what information I could, most importantly verifying that the skater was indeed a skater, wearing old-school white roller skates with 4 solid red wheels and a big red stopper (what some might call a brake) right under the toe, and not simply roller blades, which wouldn’t have been exciting at all. I also learned, after she followed up her claim of having seen the skater “every single day” of her life, with “not every day, but most days”, that Mary is given to hyperbole.

While I obviously kept an eye out for a roller skating woman in the weeks that followed that conversation, my interest in her tapered off as she repeatedly failed to appear, until I forgot about her. This week, however, I finally saw her. She was all that Mary had promised – a woman on white roller skates – but somehow, also, a little bit less.

In my imagination, a woman who roller skates to work – or wherever – would be the picture of joy. Because, obviously, she’s not doing it for the sport or the speed of it – if she were, she’d probably have chosen the less nostagically impressive but more aerodynamic roller blades. Or possibly a bicycle. Maybe, just maybe, a Segway. But to choose old-fashioned roller skates, the kind you wore when learning how to skate, when the safest way to stop was not with the toe brake but by slowly skating into a wall – it would be reasonable to conclude that such a person loves to skate.

However, the expression on this woman’s face was not that of one who loves to skate. Frankly, it’s difficult to look like you love anything when you’re going around in public with your mouth hanging open, whatever your mode of conveyance. Even had her mouth been closed, her expression would have still been. . . blank. Which is confusing. Is someone forcing her into these roller skates? Is she a Hans Christian Anderson story playing out right before our eyes? If not, if she’s merely skated so much that all the fun has been taken out of it, I may have to tell her that it’s all right to stop. Because her lack of joy in skating has robbed me of my rightful joy in seeing a grown woman roller skate. And I was really looking forward to being happy about that.


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