I like to think I’m friendly and neighborly and blah, blah, blah, people like me. Of course I learned a long time ago that not everyone is going to like me. I got real comfy with the idea that four out of five dentists/all the people will not agree I’m an okay person. Still, I try to not be completely intolerable. I attempt to hide some of the weird.
Despite such efforts, things like this happen on the regular:
I wasn’t going to chat her up, because ain’t nothin’ gonna to break my stride, nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh-no I got to keep on movin’* (or: I do not have time to stop. I wasted half the morning staring into space, and now I have to get this walk done so I’m not late to pick up my kids.).
I’m not planning to corner you at the mailbox so I can blather about the school carnival and, like, whether we should get the kids a 20-punch game card or a 15-punch game card? Probably 20, because they’ll totally use up 20 punches in like an hour and then be begging us for more anyway, so why even waste time on the 15-punch card, right?
Whether I want to talk right then or not, it stings a bit to think people are avoiding me. Lately I’ve developed a theory on why I receive some side eyes in the PTA room. See, I listen to stuff when I go on walks. Not music, usually, because I can listen to that any time. When I walk, I catch up on podcasts and comedy albums.
(I’m not trying to sound smart, and if you read all the way to the end, I think we’ll all agree that’s impossible anyway.)
My favorite podcasts right now include quiz shows like Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, and Ask Me Another, as well as shows like Nerdist Writer’s Panel, This American Life, and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Typically, This American Life and Nerdist Writer’s Panel are relegated to the car. I don’t know why, don’t make me give you a made up reason. Quiz shows, however, are great for walks, because they’re zippy and humorous and not overly thinky. Same goes for comedy.
The other day a neighbor I recognize, but don’t know well, drove by. I gave a small wave, and she looked bewildered. At first I thought, how unfortunate to have your resting face be one of bewilderment. Then I realized she wasn’t so much bewildered as openly staring at me. I do not think it was my kicky neon yellow sneakers that caught her eye.
I’d been walking along, answering quiz questions. Now, it could have looked like I was talking to myself, silently, moving my lips. Odd enough, yes? Yet here I was, talking out loud, but not to myself. I was talking to Ophira Eisenberg. Never mind that Ophira lives in my phone, or in Brooklyn, depending on how you look at things.
Today I listened to Maria Bamford on my walk. I missed her stop in Austin last week and have been consoling myself by listening to every one of her albums. (Are they still called albums?) Having Maria in my phone is like a salve on the disappointment suffered when saying, Hey, I’d love to see Maria! did not result in my husband rushing out to buy tickets. Also the disappointment I feel in myself for even expecting that to work. We all know I buy the tickets around here.
Back to walking with Maria. During today’s walk I laughed hard. And often. And loud. Walking became not only a physical exercise, but also a mental exercise in self control, of which I have little. I tried to remember, Laugh inside, Missy. To yourself. In your head, dingbat.
I think it’s important to stop here and point out a couple things.
1. I despise ear buds or headphones of any kind. I carry my phone set to a volume that seems to disturb the tai chi practicing octogenarian around the corner. To the casual observer, I do not appear to be listening to anything. That’s right. I’m a woman, walking along, listening to nothing, laughing and talking loudly. Addled suburbanite or one of our nation’s criminally insane? It’s hard to know.
2. I usually have my dog, Piper, with me. Piper is afraid of stuff. She’s not fearful of normal things like bigger dogs, bears, or strangers with candy. Piper’s afraid of small rocks, or lone roller skates abandoned on the sidewalk. Even the sidewalk itself can be unnerving. Transitions are terrifying. At home she frequently turns around so she can walk backwards over the transitions between tile and wood flooring.
Anyone watching us may see Piper suddenly jump to the side, or come to dead stop for no obvious reason. It’s totally obvious why she jumped if you can see the single, dead, dried up worm in our path, but you probably can’t see that from the window of your home office.
Let’s pause for a minute while you create a mind picture of my daily walk.
Got a mental image?
It’s a picture of a woman who may be talking to herself and cracking up. In fairness, I do sometimes think up stuff that kills me. Like my good (imaginary) friend Arthur Bach, sometimes I just think funny things.
It’s a picture of a woman who may be laughing out loud at her dog. True, Piper is bizarre and hilarious. She can’t talk but I know what she’s thinking, because dog people are like that. We’re canine mind readers.
It’s a picture of a woman who may be teetering ever closer to the proverbial edge. Don’t even pretend you don’t know of the edge. We’re all walking right up next to it, baby.
This picture is, I think, a major clue in the great suburban mystery of why that lady who lives two streets over ran from me.
*Thank you, Matthew Wilder, for your 1983 reggae hit, Break My Stride, that now provides a soundtrack to my casual acquaintance avoidance issues.