(Originally published in Main Line Life on 9/4/08)
There are people we see every day in our surrounding communities who make up the background of our lives. Maybe because I’m a writer I have developed an automatic habit of observing people and noticing their odd quirks.
In the town I used to live in there was a guy, a little past middle age, who used to walk very slowly and carefully around our block every day around dinnertime. He always wore a royal blue jogging outfit, and he was painfully thin. I never knew his name, and in fact, never did more than nod at him as he passed if I happened to be outside. My kids and I used to call him Skinny Man. One day, and then one week and month, he didn’t appear and we never saw him again. I never knew who he was or what happened to him even though I saw him nearly every day for five years.
In the same town there was another guy we called the Bicycle Guy. He rode around on a zero speed bicycle with a plastic basket on the front, and he would ring his little bell at people as he passed them. I never saw him speak to anyone and I never actually saw him in any of the stores around town. He just always seemed to be on his bicycle.
Then there was the lady who I used to think of as the Pigtail Lady. She shopped in town, and I often saw her at the grocery store and just walking around. I have always done a lot of walking myself so I would run into her occasionally and she would stop and chat with me. I had never been introduced to her in the normal manner, but she seemed to know me. This might not seem so odd except for the fact that she spoke very animatedly about things that had no connection to anything that I could figure out. It might be July and she would talk about how she had just put six Christmas trees up in the living room, but she couldn’t find her son’s collection of saxophones so how would there be music? The reason I called her the Pigtail Lady is that even though she was my age she always wore her hair in high pigtails tied with long pink ribbons on the sides of her head. She also wore bright pink lipstick and wore a lot of flowing organza.
Now that I have spent several years on the Main Line, seemingly driving around in the same large circle every day, I have noticed the same phenomenon here. There is a woman, again middle-aged, who I think of as the Rocking Lady. I have spotted her dozens of times near Suburban Square, where she takes up a spot on the sidewalk and then walks a step forward and back over and over. She wears a scarf and heavy clothing even in the summer, and sometimes I see her walking very slowly down Montgomery Avenue, her back hunched crookedly. I have occasionally seen her in a shop, but I have never seen her speak to anyone, and I have never asked her if she needs help. I don’t know why, but I feel that it would be presumptive and meddling of me to do so. Something always stops me short of speaking to her.
On my daily walks (people probably call me the Walking Lady), I frequently see an older black gentleman who always wears black sweatpants that are several inches above his ankles, and white gym socks. His short sweatpants are tied very tight around his waist and he never makes eye contact or replies if you say hello. He always seems to be just kind of checking on things as he walks up and down the streets of Haverford and Ardmore.
I am also intrigued by the lady who power walks down Lancaster Avenue in a short tennis skirt and sports bra, and by the family who walks the little dog (a terrier?) whose missing back legs have been replaced by a little tiny wheeled device.
What I’d really like to do is take out my reporter’s notebook and interview them. Like they were celebrities. Like they were the stars of their own lives. Instead I put them in my writer’s notebook and make up lives for them.