Yesterday, after eating this lunch:
Veggie Burger “Deluxe” (fancy, includes french fries)
Andrews Coffee Shop, 138 East 43rd Street
in the presence of Kyria, who ordered a tuna platter that could have fed a family of four (provided the family was not comprised of Jews, in which case it could have fed maybe a petite “bubby” and the pale, nervous kid who asks, at Passover, “Why is tonight different from any other night?”)*, I decided I would take advantage of the finally not too cold weather and my boots, which, maybe for most people wouldn’t be made for walkin’ but for me were, and walk part of the way home after gallantly walking Kyria back to her office.
As I headed north on Second Avenue, someone was walking just far enough behind me so he wouldn’t step on my heels but also close enough right behind me so a surreptitious glance from the corner of my eye couldn’t discern his face. This went on for a couple of blocks, until finally I decided I had to pretend to do something very important that necessitated my stepping aside toward the curb and completely stopping. I’ve done this before, when someone’s been trailing me too closely and I can’t bear either the physical proximity on its own or certain bonus activities the person is performing while way too close to me. (Past activities have included gum-chewing, loud-talking, foot-shuffling, Bible-thumping, cigar(ette)-smoking, Jenga-playing, sword-swallowing, and, of course, breathing.)
I stopped and stepped aside, so this man would have to pass me. I knew it was a man, because several times during our shared sidewalk experience, he sort of caught up to me and would then amble ahead of me by a mere six paces or so. He would slightly turn his head to the right and look at me out of the corner of his eye. He was probably in his mid 40s, a bit overweight, and carried a large regular umbrella over his shoulder, the pointy end extending behind him like a bayonet. From time to time he would sort of swing the umbrella up and down, side to side, as if warding off invisible soldiers.
I let him roam about half a block ahead while I talked to the DOG the very important activity that required my abrupt halt on the sidewalk moments before. With a fair amount of scorn, I told him of this umbrella-wielding warrior. “He’s carring that thing like a WEAPON!” I said, tasting bile, my favorite substance of all time. “He’s going to HURT someone!”
If you’ve ever walked with me (and scientific research shows that only .02% of you have), you know that it’s impossible for me to walk slowly. If you’ve ever walked with me in an airport (the same research reveals that only .0015% of you have), you know that, walking at my usual pace, I can “beat” anyone walking on those “moving sidewalk” contraptions. So it was only natural that I catch up to yesterday’s guy without even trying or giving it any consideration. And even more natural that I not only catch up but pass him. Which I did.
Almost immediately upon passing him, I was forced to stop at a corner, thanks to the rush of oncoming traffic. He then caught up to me, still swinging his umbrella bayonet. I stood facing directly forward, not paying him any noticeable mind. But he didn’t mind. He spoke to me anyway.
“Can I help you across the street?” he said.
“Excuse me?” I said, even though, of course I’d heard him. I turned my head about 15 degrees to the left, just enough to see him and his “winter white” trousers (these were not pants or slacks), comfy walking shoes, jacket that I could tell he thought made him look like a gentleman, and broad-brimmed hat.
“Can I help you across the street?” he repeated. I turned another 15 degrees (yes, I measured … why else would I carry a compass in my hip pocket?) toward him and the umbrella. The umbrella looked at me pleadingly (I’ve never seen such soulful green eyes!) and mouthed the words HELP ME.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “No.” And turned away from him. The traffic, like this dandily dressed pest, didn’t relent.
“I’m trying to do a good deed here,” he said with what I’ll grant passed for a laugh.
“That’s OK,” I said. “I don’t need any help.”
At that point I should have feigned another sidewalk situation that warranted my immediate attention. I should have pretended I had my cell phone set on “Manner Mode” (my Victorian phone’s polite way of saying “Vibrate”) and then taken a fake call. Or suddenly needed WHILE-U-WAIT shoe repair. Or, at the very least, collapsed on the sidewalk and started breathing “hee hee hooooo … hee hee hooooo” moments before delivering a bogus baby. Something. Anything.
But instead, I did something unspeakable. Something that shames me to no end, and which I hesitate to even memorialize here when, really, it’d be much simpler and less painful to get a lobotomy so I don’t have to recall it in days and years to come with the mixture of disgust and self-loathing that I’m experiencing now, just writing about it.
I … laughed. I laughed! I laughed as if I thought he was not a witless wanker but a delightful bon vivant! Of the two of us, only I knew that the laugh was so utterly contrived that I could see every stroke and serif that made up the letters “HA HA” as they floated in the air-space between my mouth and his ears.
My laughter spurred him on so much that he was compelled to add, with a smile in his voice as big as his umbrella, “I’m a Boy Scout, and I’m trying to do a good deed. I’m trying to earn my wolf badge.”
I laughed again. Not only was he a sharp dresser, but witty? Yes!
“Nahh,” I said, now with a broad smile as the light turned in my favor and I started to trot across the street. “I’m quiiiite all right.”
“Well, I tried,” he called after me. “You can’t say I didn’t try!”
I flashed him my biggest Julia Roberts grin, over my left shoulder, to let him know I thought he was the most gallant, well-dressed, witty, charming, attractive scout of all, and for the rest of the walk home, tried to come up with witty ways I could have responded to this Boy Scout. But everything revolved around me pretending to be a Girl Scout and asking him if he wanted to buy some cookies, which I knew could be misconstrued given an alternate meaning of “cookies”.
So in the end, I guess I really was better off with just the laughing and smiling. Or I could have commandeered his umbrella and stabbed him repeatedly while screaming, much to the delight of the emancipated umbrella, “Do I LOOK like I need help crossing the street? Do I? DO I? DO I???!!!”
But that wouldn’t have earned me very many Brownie points now, would it.
P.S. Yes, I walked the whole way home. It was a nice day, yeah, but I also did it to burn off the french fry calories. Do not ask how long it took. You see, if I tell you, you’ll be able to figure out how far I live from the restaurant where I had lunch, by using a formula that includes my weight (check the archives! I’ve mentioned the number!) and the number of calories in an average serving of fries. And I just can’t risk Boy Scout finding me via a Google search and waiting outside my building every day asking me if I can help him earn his Wolf Badge.
* She barely made a dent. (Just to clarify. I don’t want Kyria to think I’m trying to represent her as some sort of glutton!)