porcelainandporcupines

what you’ll probably take away from this one is the stuff about hippos pooping

Posted on: April 26, 2012

I love to walk; it’s my primary mode of transportation, and while I know that there are definite benefits to driving – primarily being that I could leave things in the car, rather than toting everything I own around with me all the time so that I can get to work, eat lunch, and go to yoga all in the same day – I am, at my core, a pedestrian. I like the fact that it takes time to get places, that I can let my attention wander as I go; as a pedestrian I can stop without warning if the candy factory smells particularly good, or turn around to head back the other way as soon as I realize that I’ve forgotten something or that I did, in fact, just walk past a yard filled with poultry. You can’t do that with a car. Nor can you find the amazing things that people drop in the gutter; it’s not just doll heads, you know – sometimes it’s money.

Of course, there are drawbacks to being a pedestrian, and, as with driving, the biggest problem is other pedestrians.  (Well, with driving, it’s other drivers; you know what I mean). You don’t hear about it much, probably because it’s not sexy like Road Rage and Air Rage, but Pedestrian Rage is a very real problem, even on the historical brick sidewalks of Cambridge, as I was reminded tonight.

I was making my way to yoga after work, as I am wont to do. To be honest, I was not moving as fast as I could have been – my feet hurt a little bit, and I was preoccupied with my plan to stop at CVS beforehand, which suddenly seemed ill-considered – but neither was I moving unreasonably slowly; in my opinion, I was moving at an entirely reasonable rate for a person carrying 3 bags and a yoga mat, who has more than enough time to arrive at her destination.

The gentleman walking behind me felt otherwise. I know this because, as he walked past me he turned his face toward me and said “I guess I’ll just walk the other way.” And even though, in that context, the words he used don’t make any sense, I knew exactly what he meant. As a pedestrian, I have felt it – the rage that builds as you’re stuck behind someone who is so inconsiderate as to be walking slower than you want to be going; or a group of people so up their own asses that they dare walk 3 abreast on the sidewalk, leaving no room at all for those of us who actually have places to be to get around them; or some mother who UNBELIEVABLY actually purchased a sturdy stroller in which to push around her stupid baby she’ll probably spoil, a stroller so unwieldy that her efforts to navigate around the tree roots buckling up through that historic brick back pedestrian traffic up so far that you actually have to WALK IN THE FUCKING STREET just to be on your way.

As I huff past these inconsiderate people who are willfully ignoring my presence – they know I’m there; they’re just being dicks – I often have the urge to snarl something at them, along the lines of a sarcastic “no, that’s fine; I’ll just go around,” or, on days when I’m not feeling quite so expansive, a simple, barked “MOVE!” But I don’t, because I know, no matter how irritated I am, that I am being ridiculous; that the people most likely don’t know that I’m there, or that I am filled with hate for them, and a simple “excuse me” would probably get them out of my way; in short, I know that, the novel of my life, wherein I am the heroine and also the center of the entire universe, is only being read by me. The people in front of me don’t realize they’re inconveniencing the most important person who ever lived because a.) they don’t know I’m there; and b.) from their perspective, they’re the most important person who ever lived. Which is as it should be, I think; no one should be a supporting player in their own life.

So when this gentleman said to me “I guess I’ll just walk the other way,” despite the nonsense of his words, I knew that he meant “I AM VERY IMPORTANT AND YOU ARE HOLDING ME UP!” Which is fine – I get that; he jangled as he walked passed like he had a lot of keys on him, and I saw what looked like a pair of needle-nosed pliers in his back pocket, which, to me, signify a man who means business, a man of action, a man who will be prepared to change the channel on a broken television set if he somehow gets transported back to 1978.

So I wasn’t offended by this comment of his, and despite recognizing his importance, that he was inconvenienced by me didn’t strike me as a terribly pressing issue; despite the multitude of bags, I was one person, on a wide sidewalk that was completely clear of the snow that can reduce the world to walking in single file, and no one was walking toward us – conditions could not have been more favorable for easily passing me. So my response to him was a relaxed “That’s why there’s the whole sidewalk; so you can go around.” Not, it should be noted, said sarcastically, but in my soothing voice, the voice I use to help people find things in the library : “Oh, you can’t see a way to get around me? That’s ok, I can help; there’s a whole sidewalk right here that you can use. Look at how life works, making things easy for everyone; isn’t it grand?”

Unfortunately, angry people sometimes don’t like a calm response; sometimes, in fact, it only makes them angrier. As it did in this case, when the gentleman responded with a very sarcastic “Oh, like I could really go around,” while stretching his arms out wide as though he were going to wrap them around a hippopotamus, as though embracing a hippopotamus weren’t the worst idea ever due to their notoriously bad tempers AND their habit, when they defecate under water, of using their tail to churn the water, in essence flinging their poop everywhere.

Which, in a nutshell, is kind of what this guy did to me. Which, in a weird way, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole interaction. Because at first, I was extremely upset; not because of any aspersions cast about my weight – I realize that any suggestion that my circumference presents a challenge to navigation is patently ridiculous. Yet, however invalid his word choice, as with his first sentence, his intent was clear and that intent was aggressive hostility. And no matter how may times I replayed the encounter, I could not for the life of me see what I’d done to deserve that. I wasn’t mean to him; I was utterly neutral.

And that, it turns out, was the problem. Because when I took a moment to attempt to read that chapter of our lives from his novel through the lens of my novel, it went like this:

Him: Pay attention to me!
Me: There’s no need to pay attention to you.
Him: UNACCEPTABLE!

Since we, as a species, frown on violence but also eschew the waste-based communications, this gentleman had very few options – I didn’t escalate the argument giving him reason to attack, but he had to express his frustration in some fashion, so he chose to fling some metaphorical feces at me and deliver a personal, albeit groundless, insult.

And that’s what makes me feel better, weirdly. Because always, always the most upsetting thing about this kind of interaction (which, you’ll come to see, happens kind of a lot) is that it upsets me. No matter how many times I think “Don’t let it get to you,” it does, and that makes it worse. Should I not have a reaction when someone deliberately throws poop into my day? I think I should. What I would like, however, is to be able to respond to it a little bit better. Not that I want to walk around expecting angry jabs and spurious insults from every person I meet; that wouldn’t be better. Nor would I necessarily want the presence of mind to think of a cutting insult in response; like with the hippo, once you start spraying that shit around, it just gets everywhere.

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3 Responses to "what you’ll probably take away from this one is the stuff about hippos pooping"

You write good. Like, astoundingly good. Like me, when I write comments. Good.

Also, masterful use of semicolons!

Aw, thanks! I think I do my best writing when responding to comments.

[…] “That’s irrelevant.” I sounded exceptionally calm during this entire exchange, which was gratifying, but inside I had that same queasy feeling I get whenever someone starts unexpectedly flinging their feces at me. […]

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