Growing a Spine

The last day of 2012 was a day like any other.  I drove to The Big Corporation, pecked at my papers, and walked at lunch.  Cherie Ripperton had the day off, so I walked alone.

On the new office walking route, there are several places where the path crosses a major roadway and although there are “cross walks,” many of the automobile drivers are busy motoring along and often forget to stop for pedestrians.  It’s not unusual; it happens at Hampton Beach all the time in spite of the big fluorescent plastic signs installed in the middle of Route 1A each summer.

On this particular yesterday, I was dressed in a “safety first” pedestrian style.  I had my lumberjack red and black plaid jacket and my hunter’s orange baseball cap with ear flaps, like Elmer Fudd.  Lots of people stared at me while I stomped along the sidewalk.  I was not invisible.

Oddly, when I got to the place where the crosswalk met the road, I must have been cloaked in some strange and sudden cloud of invisibility because even though I looked both ways before entering the safety zone, I could hear the roar of an accelerating engine and then the sudden slamming of brakes as a car driver realized he or she was about to hit a pedestrian.  Me.

Luckily for the driver, I am always looking out for myself as I trudge along the highways and byways, so I quickly stepped back and let them pass; they must have been very busy and important because they cast an angry look my way.  Their little dog did too.  “Get back on the sidewalk, you foul walking peasant!” was the vibe I picked up.

I considered this near mishap all gain because it caused me to think and thinking seems to be the one thing not enough people are doing these days.

My first thought was to imagine what I might say if the driver of the speeding car had rolled down their window and said something to me.  In my mind, I would say something witty in return like “I know, I know, you and your little dog are cardiologists and you’ve been called to an emergency open heart surgery at the hospital down the road.  I’m sorry I was in your way.  Go in peace, you BLEEP.”

Then I started thinking of all the times in my life when people had said or done angry things to me and I had said nothing.  It seems like my general approach in such circumstances has been the passive approach, except on the occasions when I have responded angrily.  Why was there no middle ground of appropriateness?  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve used the “retreat” approach much more than the “telling the truth in love” approach.  The rest of my walk was consumed with thoughts of how to develop appropriate responses to people who cross the lines of polite conversation and civility.  I also thought a bit about how to respond to people who cross the lines painted on the road.

When I left the office for the day, I decided I would get a slice of pizza for dinner at a place in Hampton.  It’s been a while since I’ve stopped at this particular location of a Seacoast pizza magnate’s chain; I selected my slice and the young lady working behind the counter asked me if I wanted it heated up.  I said “yes.”

She cast my pizza slice carelessly into the giant Blodgett oven.  She walked back to the counter, took my money, and walked back to the oven and removed my slice.  Barely 45 seconds had passed.  In another life this certain commercial grade pizza oven manufacturer had been one of my customers and I knew their ovens were hotter than hell; could my slice really be hot enough to survive the ride home after such a brief blast?

I said nothing, wished the young lady a “Happy New Year” and left.  I could tell the pizza was tepid; I set it on the dashboard of the Jeep and let out a heavy sigh.  Do I go back into the store and ask her to reheat it? Or do I just drive on and accept it as yet another wasted Lincoln?  I could imagine myself making some smart aleck comment, but I also thought back to my pedestrian reverie earlier in the day and my general inability to exert a little spine about such things.  Then I weighed the cost-benefit of getting out of the Jeep, mustering up the energy to “say what I mean and not say it mean” and my final analysis was that it wasn’t worth it.  I dislike conflict so much that I’ll eat cold pizza while planning a complete and forever boycott of this pizza chain.

Why is that?

I have seen people who are quite adept at “truthing.”  In my early days in the Junior League, I once went to a “mixer” at a member’s house in Louisburg Square.  It was “pot luck” and I brought some crazy pimiento cheese spread I read about in Southern Living magazine.  As the “mixer” ended and we guests gathered up our dishes, I offered the remaining Dixie cheese to the hostess; she said “oh, no thank you, I don’t care for it.”

Just like that.

I have thought about her remark many times in my life since then and of course, I always think of it when I walk through Louisburg Square.  I’ve worked through my insecurities about being a hick from Maine bearing gifts of Southern cheese spreads to Boston socialites.  I may even have written her line on an index card for my stash of lines to use at The Big Corporation.  It’s a great line.

“No thank you, I don’t care for it.”

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word spine as “something resembling a spinal column or constituting a central axis or chief support.”  I do have a few back problems, all relatively minor, but sometimes I wonder if these problems are a physical manifestation of my inability to speak up for myself.  Might these problems resolve if I could just strengthen my central axis?  I am sure there is some New Age prophet or prophetess who might even suggest that my spinal problems stem from my lack of assertiveness.

It was an exciting New Year’s Eve, eating a cold pizza slice and drinking a can of imported Italian soda.  I topped it off with some Junior Mints my mother put in my Christmas stocking.  I’m not complaining; it’s all part of my spinal growth diet for 2013.

If you’re reading this on January 1, 2013, I’m already out and about, taking a sunrise walk to the Rocks at Rye.

Ever the external optimist, I knew one thing was true about pedestrian crosswalks, hicks bearing cheesy gifts, and spinal weakness.  I knew it would be good raw material for a blog post.  Since I am in the business of producing words, sentences, and paragraphs, I consider these brief afflictions all joy here on the blog.

Happy New Year!

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4 Responses to Growing a Spine

  1. Wingnut on the loose says:

    You know, Julie, sometimes I wish you’d just hit somebody (not while driving in reverse, however, or for that matter, driving at all). How is eating something you didn’t want spine building? Just what is the purpose of describing your New Year’s Eve soiree? You must want something from us, your loyal readers, because I don’t see much spine-building going on there.

    Just how close did that driver come? Dangerously close? Or just enough to toss a fit? In Naples, no one looks at traffic, and one sees women plunging into the road in front of oncoming traffic all the time. Somehow, the cars always stop, and the lady in the road never, but never, looks at the drivers. It’s a funny rule there, but who looks, loses. If she kept looking at the drivers expecting them to stop for her, she’d never get home.

    I’m not advising plunging into the road in front of your locals. It’s a different world, and though Neapolitan traffic looks absolutely Hellish and chaotic to Americans, people don’t get run over. What you can still learn from those Neapolitan women, though, is to stop begging for permission. Either cross the road or don’t. Jump out for your safety, that’s wise, but why look at the driver–you can’t fix stupid, and all you’re doing is trying to shame her for not giving you permission to cross the road.

    Yeah, I know this is an odd way to look at it, but you need more cognitive dissonance in your life. Happy New Year!

    • Thank you, Wingnut. I do appreciate my loyal readers and will take it under advisement regarding the amount of absurd poetic license I allow myself, for the sake of the blog. I must get back to picking the last of my spine-building kale now. My hand is freezing. Happy New Year and stay tuned for something completely different tomorrow, Wings.

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