Scarred for Life

I am currently sporting a three inch gash on my right cheek. The worst part about it is that I have been so sick that I don’t have a clue where it came from. I just surfaced from my swirling pool of delirium at one point and there it was. And of course the minute I knew it was there it started to hurt.

I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. I guess it’s actually more like a scratch. A bright red, deep, angry scratch. Maybe it’s something my enthusiastic dog visited upon me, or else the result of a bad wrestling match with my CPAP mask. I have been known to sleep walk and wind up in strange places, and Nyquil does tend to keep its secrets. I only know it looks like I’ve been in a bar fight. As people stare at me, I’m tempted to say, “You should see the other guy.”

It’s embarrassing to go out in public looking like this, especially since I don’t have a funny story to go along with it. It’s a good thing that I’m feeling so weak and unmotivated that I’m naturally lying low anyway. But in retrospect I needn’t have worried, because I forgot that I am now living in the Pacific Northwest.

You see, in Florida, if I had gone out like this, strangers would be stopping me on the street. “Child, what happened to you?” If I had been walking with my husband they might even say, “Did HE do this to you?” All while giving him the hairy eyeball. In the South, people are all up in your business.

But here in the Pacific Northwest you could walk down a busy street with a sucking chest wound and no one would even bat an eyelash. Here, no one wants to intrude. Its as if everyone walks around wearing a cloak of invisibility. You could have a second head growing out of your chest and the most intrusive interaction you’d have with somebody would be their inquiry as to what floor you are going to when you get on the elevator and can’t reach the buttons because your second head is in the way.

This has its pros and its cons. Sometimes I genuinely don’t want to be bothered with people, and here people make that very easy. You do you, I’ll do me. But I do miss that sense of community, and that honesty. Because come on, if you see a gash on a woman’s face, you really do want to know what the hell happened. At least I do. I’d rather someone asked than that they make up a story. I’d rather think that someone gives a shit rather than feel like I’m all alone in the world. I like my privacy, but I’d also like to think that there’s help out there if I should ever need it. Yes, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I just always seem to live out in the lunatic fringe, where all the extremes of behavior come home to roost.

In the meantime, until this wound heals, I’m kind of liking the Pacific Northwest realm of things. Here, my gash doesn’t exist. No one but small children will even look at it directly. No one will ever inquire about its origins. Therefore no one will never know that in this instance, their guess is as good as mine.

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Are You Sure?

From a recent conversation:

Me: “I need someone from maintenance to come out and remove some car parts from the middle of my drawbridge, as they are backing up traffic.”

“Um… That drawbridge is no longer in our system.”

“Er, yes it is. I think you’re thinking of the Montlake Bridge.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m a City of Seattle Employee.”

“But do we maintain that bridge?”

“Yes we do. Yes, you do. I’m standing on it right now. I’ve worked here for 3 ½ years.”

“Was a tow truck called?”

“I have no idea. The cars in question are long gone. They just left parts behind.”

“Yeah, but was a tow truck called?”

“Not by me!!!! Please, are you sending someone out to remove the bumpers? I have traffic backed up for miles.”

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Welcome to my pet peeve. Not being taken seriously drives me absolutely insane. Why would I lie? I mean, honestly, just get the damned bumpers off the road, already!

My whole life, this has been a problem. As the youngest in the family, I was not taken seriously at home. Even though I graduated at the top of my class, I was quiet and shy and not in with the in crowd, so I wasn’t taken seriously at school. As a female in a male dominated workplace, to this day I am not taken seriously at work. Now that I’m fat and old, I’m generally not even seen when in public. I’m completely invisible. It’s maddening.

The reason that I try so hard not to be dismissive of people, the reason I’m extra polite to cashiers and wait staff and the elderly, is that I know what it’s like to be discounted. It’s an awful feeling. And it’s completely unnecessary.

Common courtesy and mutual respect ought to be everyone’s default position. Listening to people and trying to understand what they’re saying is a necessary survival skill, so it shouldn’t be so hard to come by. As the planet becomes increasingly crowded, we need to behave all the more decently, or life will get pretty unbearable up in here, people.

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For All the Unsung Bridgetenders

For the first time in many, many years, I will not be ringing in the new year all alone at work. This is not because after 16 years as a bridgetender I’ve earned a certain level of seniority. No. It’s simply because this time around, the holiday just happened to fall on my regular day off.

I’m reminded of that postal motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Yeah. Except they get holidays off. Bridgetender’s don’t. And they are some of the most truly dedicated people in the world. Despite that, most of you don’t even realize we exist.

So today I want to wish the bridgetenders of the world a Happy New Year. For those who endure poorly heated and/or air conditioned rooms, Happy New Year. For those who shovel and de-ice sidewalks, Happy New Year. For those who get covered in grease and motor oil, hose down pigeon poop and shovel pigeon corpses, Happy New Year. For those who have to stay late when their relief doesn’t show up, for those who have prevented suicides, for those who have pulled people out of wrecked or burning cars, for those who call 911, and for those whose own cars get vandalized, Happy New Year.

For those who keep you safe, even when you don’t realize you are in danger, Happy New Year. For those who have to think on their feet and sometimes get in trouble for it, Happy New Year. For those who are outrageously underpaid and mistreated by their employers (I’m thinking of Florida, in particular, here), Happy New Year. For those who keep the city’s traffic, in all its many forms, flowing efficiently, Happy New Year.

For those who stand in plain sight and yet seem to be invisible (and still keep the intimate conversations they overhear to themselves), Happy New Year. For those who occasionally find the loneliness hard to take, Happy New Year. For every bridgetender who sits in a tower looking at a bullet hole in the window (which is most of us), and wonders when it will happen again, Happy New Year. For those of us who have been pelted with eggs and tomatoes and pumpkins and beer bottles, Happy New Year. For those who have nightmares about some of the horrible things we’ve seen, Happy New Year.

But I especially want to thank those who show up day in and day out, and take pride in their jobs, often without acknowledgement. To me, you all are heroes. Please know that someone really does see you.

Somewhere, there really ought to be a monument.

Here’s the most amazing thing about being a bridgetender: In spite of all of the above, many of us truly love our jobs. I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is who I am.

Happy New Year to all of the forgotten ones out there. And many, many more.

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Wind

The day I wrote this, we had 60 mph wind gusts in Seattle. Isn’t nature amazing? I watched as someone’s umbrella turned inside out as they crossed the bridge. Think about that for a minute. A completely invisible force had the power to physically alter an object. That very same completely invisible force had the power to make me snicker.

Wind has always fascinated me. Benjamin Franklin used to take air baths, naked. Womanizer though he was, I would have had a crush on him. I totally see the appeal. The right kind of wind can embrace you.

There’s nothing better than a cool breeze in the sweltering tropics. And I love the (usually mild) summer winds in Seattle. I like to sleep with the windows open and let them caress me all night long. And blustery days can be rather exciting.

But when you add cold and/or water into the mix, it’s not nearly as fun. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I could do without ever living through another hurricane, thankyouverymuch. And the time the tree blew down in my back yard and went right through my neighbor’s 2nd story window, missing him by mere inches? That was no picnic, either.

Wind can be passionate or refreshing or cruel or hectic or soothing. And you don’t get to choose. But that’s kind of comforting. I like the idea that there’s a force out there that I don’t need to, and couldn’t possibly, control. That’s just as it should be.

blustery

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Invisible People

When I’m at work up on my drawbridge and the weather is nice, I often like to sit with the windows open. We get quite a few walkers and joggers on the bridge, and a few will wave as they go by, but more often than not people will look right at me and not really see me. It’s a strange phenomenon. They will chat about the most intimate, personal and shocking things with each other, as if they think I won’t hear them. I know more than a few secrets and scandals that I would rather not have become privy to.

When I tell people what I do for a living, they will frequently say they cross that bridge all the time and didn’t even realize someone was up there. It’s not like we’re hiding. And the bridge certainly does not open itself. Go figure.

It makes me wonder how many other people go unnoticed in this world. Can you describe your mailman or the person who rings up your groceries? Does the receptionist at your doctor’s office have blond hair or black? What was your toll booth operator wearing just now? Who just handed you that double hamburger with cheese?

I recently wrote a blog entry called “This is Who I Am” and mentioned that the older I have gotten, the more invisible I seem to have become, and I’ve gotten a great deal of feedback from people who share that experience.

We’re all unique individuals with lives and stories to tell, but it seems that a great deal of us wander about unseen, or at least unacknowledged and unappreciated.

As you go through your day today, look at the people with whom you cross paths, and really, really try to see them.

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The Happy Donor by Magritte, one of my favorite artists.