Charity, it seems like a lot of weird stuff happens to you. You probably should have a blog. — G.E.
Here’s the short of it:
- I was nearly run over by a mall cop.
- People made fun of the mall cop, and I pitied him.
- I was nearly run over by an old lady.
- I flipped off the old lady, and I didn’t feel bad about it.
Here’s the rest of it:
Visiting the Dollar Store at any time of day or night is usually a depressing prospect, but it is especially so at 9 pm on a Saturday. But my wild Saturday night plans involved buying toothpaste, and it was most efficient to do so at the Dollar Store. To get to that toothpaste I had to walk past the Lloyd Center Mall, the one that distinctly smells of cream-cheese-frosting pretzels, new shoes, tater tots, and homeless people all the time — all at the same time.
The streets and parking lots were mostly empty, but as I approached the entrance to a parking lot, I saw under the street light a mall cop riding a Segway. He was portly, the folds of his belly hanging over his belt line, breasts sagging under a nearly iridescent white dress shirt. He needed an undershirt. He needed a new job. But his posture and Segway helmet gave him a stately air, and he steered the Segway with purpose.
Exhibit A: The fictional Paul Blart, Mall Cop
Since I could see him so clearly, and since our paths were about to cross, I expected that the mall cop would pause, or even just slow down, as I passed him. Pedestrians have the right-of-way, right? Even against Segways? Even on sidewalks or in parking lots?
But this mall cop did not pause, did not slow for me. In fact, he nearly clipped my toenails. The grump in me, the sudden pedestrians’ rights activist, wanted to scowl, to shout after him, “Watch it, Segway!”
But before I had a chance to say anything, a trio of teenage girls were shouting from two blocks away.
“MALL COP! MALL COP!”
The mall cop stared straight ahead, as though his Segway helmet were thick enough to keep him from hearing the taunts. But if he hadn’t heard them, he wouldn’t have approached the next parking garage with such intensity. If he hadn’t heard them, he would have tilted his head for a better view of the setting summer sun. He might have hummed a song from the radio, tapped his fingers on the Segway handlebars. He would not have whirred down the sidewalk stone-faced.
“PAUL BLART! CAN I RIDE IT?”
He heard them. Girls half his age, kids who already had more active social lives than he did. Girls who knew a little about kindness but were too self-conscious to try it out. He stared straight ahead, as he had likely done many times in public school hallways, where he earned a diploma in deflecting insults. Had he reached the master’s or PhD level, he would know that laughter was a more effective means of protection. Or perhaps he did know this, but didn’t have the courage to practice it.
The mall cop moved forward. So did I; so did the teens.
After a quick stop at the Dollar Store the street was quiet and shadowed as I headed home. I approached a crosswalk under a street light, waited for my green light, and then took a few steps into the intersection. At the same moment, a slick Prius jetted into my path, closer than the mall cop had been.
What kind of a night is this — two near run-overs in 15 minutes? What kind of a person didn’t pause for a pedestrian in a lighted crosswalk? What kind of a person turned a corner at 35 miles per hour?
The mall cop had nothing on this driver. I raised my right hand. I raised my middle finger. I flashed it in front of the driver, and as I did, I saw that the driver was an elderly woman. She looked like an urban liberal grandma, one who used to be a hippie before she started bringing home a six-figure salary. She had tight yet sagging arms, a gray buzz cut and a tight-fitting T-shirt that was probably made of bamboo fibers from an organic farm in Tibet or whatever.
I decided in less than a second that this woman was my nemesis. But the fact remained: I had flipped off an old lady. Forgive me, Jesus, for I am pretty sure that was a shitty thing to do.
For all I know — which is pretty much nothing — the sympathetic mall cop could have been a first-class jerk and the Prius-driving old lady could end up being my best friend some day. But, on the other hand, maybe she was the grandmother of the mall cop. I wondered how many times she had run her loved ones over with criticizing words, with her nagging about why they should all be driving Priuses and when were they going to go vegan anyway and, hey, who wants to come to Whole Foods market to pick up some toilet paper? Time for another buzz cut!
When you only have a split second with a person, that moment can remain lodged in memory, bright and hazy as parking lot lights. I wonder how many snapshot impressions we give people over the course of a day, of a lifetime? Are they all grossly inaccurate, or do they reveal tiny bits of truth?