Jan 26 • 5M

The Lollipop Lady.

Liner Notes: The World and Me. 3/12

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Life’s lemons into rich, dark chocolate.
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I very recently started a new job, at an actual building that I actually go to everyday with my actual human body.

Now every morning I walk my daughter to school (surreptitiously, as not to embarrass her) then continue three blocks to the subway. Been a bit of time since I’ve done this sort of thing, so my capacity for public interaction is not at all what once it was. Even though the walk is short and uneventful, at the end I do head into a dark vast cave emanating otherworldly screeches and wails as if from Greek myth.

But it’s winter now; so my coat and hat and new fancy mask offer a layer of shielding I never had before. And the corner before the subway station has a friendly crossing guard, probably in her late sixties, who that first day gave me the absolutely warmest smile and hearty “Have a nice day”.

Sometimes, quite rarely, the spirit of the city speaks directly to me, transmogrifying into the sun peeking from behind clouds, or the trains perfectly connecting, or a genuine and enthusiastic smile from a stranger saying “Have a nice day”. It’s the world saying, “Hey. You’re doing ok.”

In the middle of my second week the weather took a bizarre turn, and it was suddenly 62 degrees outside in January. My daughter and I had really enjoyed the walk to school, so when I reached the crossing corner I said “Good Morning!” to the guard with appreciative gusto.

Her smile fell. Her face hardened. Her eyes narrowed. She silently nodded her head, once, dismissively, like a Roald Dahl villain, and I just kept walking toward my stop, my face oddly frozen in a smile, like at the end of a ZOOM call when you’re waiting for that “Leave Meeting” button to kick in.

I immediately rewound the event in my head to determine what might have offended her, I mean I wasn’t wearing anything weird that –

– ah. I realized that my mask had been pulled down, and this had been the first time the crossing guard had seen my face, and it was now obvious that she had thought, all along, that I was somebody else. Whoever the other guy was, she liked him a lot. Maybe he’s on TV or something.

Thus, I had stolen all that warmth and good feeling. It wasn’t my fault, but an unfortunate expansion of the moment you realize a person is actually waving at someone behind you.

The way her face had dropped at the sight of the lower third of mine revealed such a definitive disappointment I felt I now owed her something to balance my unintentional deception, my IRL catfishing.

So. A gentle charm offensive.

The next day; much colder outside, mask back on, pace steady but not rushed; I offered a clearly audible “Have a good day!” as I passed, the phrase chosen as not to imply familiarity, but authentic respect, citizen to citizen.

The day after was a little warmer; so a mask-down genuine smile with a single nod, no audible greeting, moving quickly, no response expected.

By the fourth day, I got a very tentative “g…good morning” back.
No eye contact.

I always speak first now. She doesn’t always even acknowledge me. Yet every connection with a person is both effort and gift, so I am paying forward the compassion she mistakenly gave to me back to her. In installments.

As nice as it was to have the world ethereally happy to have me back in it for a week or so, it’s a better start to the day for me to express gratitude and enthusiasm, prime the kindness pump, help the ball get rolling a little bit.

I understand that this has nothing to do with writing a ballet, and I’m not gonna twist this around to make any kind of musical sense, though I have just now remembered that in the UK a crossing guard would be called a “lollipop lady”; which is a bit zen given the title of last week’s column.

I will say that the act of going to the office everyday is a brand new rhythm for me, and the cacophony and jostling of my daily underground journey is balanced somewhat by a harmonious morning stroll…

…until I hit that corner, because she is still…very angry. I’ll keep politely smiling…mask or not, but I’ll be looking both ways before I cross the street.