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Street walker

Picasso's "Woman with a Blue Hat"

Picasso’s “Woman with a Blue Hat”

She obviously lives nearby because I’ve seen her walking down my street so often. And that’s why I notice her. She walks in the street, right down the middle, never on the sidewalk on either side. The sidewalks here are mere extensions of the curbs. There’s no setback from the street, no intervening easement or strip of grass. They lie perhaps twenty feet from the street’s center line, but still she walks in the street. Always.

I can’t tell how old she is. She could be in her 20s or 30s, but its difficult to tell; she might even be a teenager. She always wears the same little billed cap and sunglasses. She walks slowly, deliberately, and stiffly upright. Her head never moves, as though she’s staring intently at a distant point. She never looks left or right.

I noticed her again a few days ago. Not so much because she was there, but because three minutes after she disappeared heading south, she reappeared going in the opposite direction. Perhaps the corner, two houses down, was the end of her route and she turned around there. Yet most people would go around the block, walking a circular course. I see a lot of neighbors reversing course, but they’re usually walking to and from the mailboxes at the north end of the block.

I imagine lots of different things about her. Apparently she doesn’t have a job outside the home because she’s usually out during the day. She could be out walking just for exercise, but you expect someone like that to either be walking quickly, for fitness, or strolling, looking around at other people, the houses, the barking dogs, etc. She doesn’t do either. She walks slowly, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. I suppose she could be wearing ear buds and listening to music, but I’ve never noticed a telltale cord. It’s also occurred to me that she might be mentally challenged in some way. That might explain the unnatural gait. Or perhaps she has a physical problem that limits her mobility.

There’s only one other neighbor I always notice. He lives diagonally across the street. I notice him because he walks up to the mailboxes and back, at least a hundred yards one way, in his stocking feet. Not barefoot. Not in shoes of any kind. But in his socks. Who does that!? I’ll bet he catches hell from his wife for that.

I just got back from walking the dog on this, an unusually cool summer day. Mid to high 70s. Couldn’t let a day like that go to waste. No sooner had I left the house than I passed the strange lady street walker. She was still wearing a cap and shades, still walking dead center down the middle of the street. This time she seemed engrossed in a phone conversation. She held the phone in an odd way, almost in front of her face, as though talking into it but not listening.

Then, quite unexpectedly, she glanced my way, smiled, and said, “Pretty dog.”

Suddenly she didn’t seem so strange anymore. And I felt about two feet tall.

US

11 Comments »

  1. A long time ago, there was a woman that used to walk past the house I lived in at the time just like that – straight down the middle of the road. Although it was one of those roads without sidewalks (just a strip of gravel on either side), I never walked on it like she did because it had a fairly high amount of traffic. I had begun to think there was something wrong with her too, until I happened to meet her at the checkout of a nearby 7-11.

    She turned out to be quite normal, and very nice even. When I asked shes walked down the road like that, she told me that it was a habit she developed from living in a bad area, with unchained dogs (and dog owners that seemed even more dangerous) on both sides of the street. Just goes to show that you can’t reliably guess what’s behind another person’s actions! 😀

    • Until you mentioned it, I’d forgotten that as a kid I was taught to walk in the street rather than too close to shrubbery, dark areas, etc., that might hide a mugger (or worse). I suppose the woman here might be like the one you talked to, although this is a nice neighborhood with no muggers, no security concerns, and no loose dogs that I’ve seen. I have passed a few yards where I was glad the dogs were securely fenced. (I also passed one with a big Beware of Dog sign on the fence, only to hear a tiny little yap from the other side!)

  2. I still haven’t worked out what happens if a man is short and has a funny name too. I know it’s common for “Hollywood” types to change their names, but that combination has to have had an effect on a man’s psyche long before he gets to that point. Which leaves me wondering if James “Francis” Cagney, Jr. and Edward G. Robinson (aka Emanuel Goldenberg) were literally “born” for the “tough guy” rolls they were so famous for?!?! 🙄

  3. Mollie and I go to the YMCA 5 times a week and we both walk on the air conditioned track at least part of the time. At least once a week I see a very black man also walking on the track. He is a medium man. Medium height and weight. His hair is minstrel curly. Really, it is shooting in all directions, almost in little pigtails. He is not athletic, his stroll listless, his dress inappropriate, street attire, half boots partially laced, shirttails out, but oddly clean. His pace is listless and he occasionally stops dead in one of the four lanes to stare at one of the ubiquitous television monitors. This behavior is inconsiderate to the other walkers, but nobody complains – it would be politically incorrect I suppose. He is oblivious to the others. Who is he? Why is he here? Obviously not for exercise – if he is, he’s getting cheated. I guess it’s something to do. He seems to be in a routine without a purpose. I can’t comprehend it because my whole life has been goal-driven. Maybe we both have ruts and mine is simply different.

    The Y has a contract, I discovered, with a local “mental health” center. If life has no purpose, can one be supplied?

    • “Something to do” is a goal in itself for many people. And if he even gets out of his room, that’s exercise of a sort. It does become a sticky wicket if he’s inconveniencing others at the gym, however.

      A psychologist once told me that he stopped encouraging all his patients to set and pursue goals when he realized not everyone is goal-driven. Goal-setting alone was not a longterm survival skill for some people; what would they do once the goal had been achieved? I wish I could ask him now what a goal-driven person, adrift without goals, is supposed to do.

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