I was standing in a big, dirty parking lot in the industrial part of town. Think concrete and gas fumes. It would be difficult to find a less natural setting. And it was raining, causing rivulets of polluted snowmelt to criss cross the pavement as far as the eye could see.
That’s when I spotted her. A coyote, running down the sidewalk as semi trucks blasted past. She looked mangy and emaciated. I’ve never seen anything that looked so feral in my life.
I was fascinated, but also glad that she hadn’t come too close. There was something surreal about seeing her there. It was almost like she was floating in outer space. This should not be her environment.
She was focused on her mission, whatever that may have been. She didn’t acknowledge me, although I’m sure she was acutely aware of my presence. Nothing was going to get in her way, not even an 18 wheeler. And she was quiet. If I hadn’t been looking that direction, I’d have never known she was there.
I had never come face to face with a coyote before. I know they’re around. I sometimes hear them howling in the park behind our house. It always gives me a frisson. And it makes me worry for my Dachshund.
But to see one is something else again. It’s like being confronted by the raw power of nature. Even in her weakened state, I had no doubt that she was stronger than me, and much more capable of surviving.
At the same time, I felt sorry for her, living on the ugliest, dirtiest fringes of human civilization. We have done this. We have encroached. She shouldn’t have to live like this.
On the day I wrote this, I got grease all over the cuff of my favorite work jacket. And I’m not talking grease from an order of French fries, here. I’m talking industrial grade mechanical grease, nearly the consistency of peanut butter. (SWEPCO 113, for those of you who are curious.)
It made me smile.
Don’t get me wrong. I tried to avoid it. It’s a royal pain in the butt to get out. I’m soaking the sleeve in simple green even as we speak, and will probably do so for about 24 hours before washing. But as a bridgetender, I have to do my part to keep my drawbridge operating smoothly, so greasy I’m bound to get every now and then.
What made me smile is that if you were profiling me, you wouldn’t expect that I was the sort of woman who even comes in contact with grease, let alone gets it all over her clothes. If I were on What’s My Line, you’d never guess correctly.
And yet, here I am. Pushing the boundaries. Breaking the stereotypes.
I was tempted to smear some of that grease on my cheekbones while I was at it. A badge of honor. A shot across the frontal lobe of your pigeon-holing mind.
Every time I surprise someone by walking down the street in my hardhat, or by adding insulation to the subfloor of my house, or even by offering someone the use of my jumper cables, I’m broadening their worldview just a tiny bit. And I like that.
Because every time I take a tiny chip out of your typecast, it makes it all the more easy for the women who come behind me to be themselves. It may not be much, but if we all keep chip, chip, chipping away, ignorance and hate will lose, and those of us who don’t mind getting greasy will find it more possible to do so.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dig the crud out from under my short, raggedy nails.