Out of Context

Last week, on Seventh Avenue, as I waited at a light to cross the street to Whole Foods, I saw a woman in a black tank top and short shorts who didn’t look half-bad, which meant of course that I had to pretend to look at something behind her so I could check her out from all angles. Upon looking at her more closely, on my third go-round, I realized she wasn’t half-bad, she was more like three-quarters-bad and that the sunlight in my eyes was responsible for my original misjudgment.
It was then that I realized who it was. It was a woman I see at the gym quite often, especially on weekends. I’ll just call her Paula (even if her real name is Heather) (no, it’s not) (please, I’m not stupid). She’s an all right enough person, or seems to be, even if somewhat neurotic and obsessive. Even if she insists on pixie cuts that do nothing to hide her rather obtrusive proboscis. Even if she annoyed me one time by insisting on talking to me when we were side-by-side on something called the StepMill (otherwise known to me as “the stairway to nowhere”).
I planned to pretend I didn’t see her, and I think she returned the favor, because I’m sure she saw me as I waited at the light not 15 feet away from where she stood. I mean, how could she miss me in my frayed-top jeans, body-conscious black tank-top, and sexy black slides, my hair cascading down my back, when two Cro-Magnon men in the van/truck made their approval of my appearance abundantly clear upon turning the corner?
Once inside Whole Foods, I sensed her not a dozen steps behind me. We were both in the produce section. I was on a quest for orange bell pepper, a Vidalia onion, and loose mushrooms. She, I saw moments later, was hunting for strawberries. Not three feet separated us. The only thing that did was some strange sense of snobbishness on my part. I decided to ignore it, but not ignore her.
“Out of context!” I said, touching her on the arm somewhere between her shoulder and elbow. She turned to her right, arm in mid-air, reaching for strawberries.
“From the gym,” I continued, helping her out, because she didn’t seem to recognize the non-drenched, non-crazed version of me that stood next to her. “I saw you outside and didn’t realize it was you at first, but didn’t want to say anything in case I was mistaken.”
Yeah right. But then again, of course I couldn’t just say, “I saw you outside and checked you out three times, only smugly noticing by the third time that there’s a reason why you always keep your legs covered at the gym. But you do look much more attractive, facially, outside the gym. And your hair really does benefit from the application of a comb and some gel.”
She laughed and smiled broadly. “You look fantastic, as always,” she said.
“So do you,” I semi-sorta lied. And then proceeded to tell her that because she works out so hard (which she does), she deserved to “flaunt it”. She agreed, returned the platitude, and we chatted briefly about the and then the loveliness of Whole Foods and how wonderful it was to be ladies of leisure who could be out in the middle of the day doing something like shopping for strawberries and orange bell peppers while the rest of the world was stuffed into offices. I wish I could say we shared a moment, but alas we didn’t. At least I don’t think we did. I was just trying to think of a way to run away from her without her noticing.
She told me she was buying something for dessert for a party she was going to that night, and was going to bring a cake too in addition to the fruit salad she was shopping for, and everyone was going to be drunk … and blah … and whatever … and so on. I didn’t really listen. I lost interest, actually, even before she told me how fantastic I looked. But had I not, I would have lost interest as soon as she told me how drunk everyone was going to be. I can’t stand that, even when the person telling me is college-age, but especially when the person telling me is old enough to have a kid in college.
Now, ordinarily I am not one to go in for idle chit-chat. Indeed, most of the time I’d rather perform a self-tonsillectomy using nothing more than a butterknife and a pair of pliers than force myself to talk when I’m not in the mood. But for some reason, that day I was feeling particularly magnanimous and garrulous; hence the compliments and the chatter. I was also just amused to see someone (anyone) Out of Context.
I don’t know why it titillates me so. I just know that it does. There have been several occasions where I’ve seen people out of the context in which I was accustomed to seeing them, and evey time, I’m amused.
Before I moved from Philadelphia to New York, I came up to the city to see my then-boss’ niece in a play. When I saw him in the lobby before the show, I almost didn’t recognize him. Where was the dark-suited little guy with the red face who ground his teeth and whose halting shuffle led him to my desk every morning where he would hover in front of me like a hummingbird?
When a small man came up to me, dressed in “slacks”, a pullover sweater, button-down shirt, and loafers, I barely recognized him, despite the florid face and omnipresent teeth-grinding.
Even though it was the weekend, and he too was entitled to dress more casually than was required at the office, I still expected to see him in a suit and tie, slightly frayed shirt, and squeaky shoes in need of resoling. I never pictured him in anything but his usual attire. On the rare occasions that I thought about his life outside the office, I pictured him at home, watching TV in a suit.
I even expected to see his hands clutching a 50-page document in need of revision “ASAP” and a faded, brick-colored file bulging with three years of shoved-in papers desperately in need of my attention.
I think one or both of us made a lame comment about how “funny” it was to see each other outside the office. And then we commented on our drives up to and into the city. I may have made an intensely lame comment about feeling like I should be revising a document, but I’m not too sure. Knowing how awkward I felt, I probably did.
So. There we stood, facing each other: he, grinding his teeth and regarding me with a blend of admiration and amusement; and I, wearing an obscenely fake smile, wanting desperately to flee the room. The usual. The only things out of context were our physical forms. Everything else remained the same.
When I came into the office the following Monday, he shuffled his red-faced way over to my desk, grinding his teeth, beaming, wearing the familiar suit, tie, frayed shirt, and squeaky shoes, and handed me a thick dog-eared document.
“Your niece’s show was great,” I said, lying.
“Thank you for coming. It was great to see you!” he said, not.