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Friday, July 6, 2012

[1404] the printing station

I'm sitting at the library, reading and people watching as I often do, and there's a line at the printing station right next to me. A woman, maybe late 20s, pretty and clearly well-to-do, is printing page after page after page. I can only assume she's printing her dissertation or a novel or a strongly-worded letter to her HOA. Meanwhile, the queue is growing behind her.

This friendly guy, wearing a backpack and a bucket hat, is standing about four feet behind her. I'd seen him when I came into the library, greeting people in the doorway. He's clearly a regular. A man introduces him to his wife and kids. You can't help but smile at the whole interaction. And as people are passing by while he waits for the printer, they're saying hello, addressing him by name.

Pretty Printing Lady turns and looks over her shoulder with an expression of great unease. And then she says to Friendly Regular, "Could you step back and to the left?" Trying to break the tension, he asks with a convivial and simultaneously empathetic smile, "Oh, am I scaring you?" And without a bit of humor, she replies, "You're just too close for me."

One of Friendly Regular's friends, a thin woman whose face betrays years of bad habits and bad luck, gapes at Printing Lady, then says something along the lines of, "I've had it with these Newport women. I'll be outside." And you know this isn't the first injustice she's faced at the hands of people uncomfortable with imperfection, people who are unfamiliar with what it means to go without, to need.

Pretty Printing Lady finishes her errand and stands. "I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable," Friendly Regular says. She doesn't look at him. She clutches her purse to her chest and walks away. I want to grab her by her smug shoulders and shake her. I want to ask her, "Does it occur to you how you make people feel? You with your designer handbag, with your library card nestled in your Coach wallet?" I don't think I could make her understand. She'd probably tell me she'd do the same thing if a man in a Versace suit were standing behind her, but it's not the same. It couldn't possibly be the same.