I felt guilty yesterday because I watched from my car as a woman tried to walk across an icy parking lot, and I smiled. Well, to tell the truth, I actually laughed. Yes, I am a cruel unfeeling human. But, between you and me, it was really quite funny.
Edmonton has had at least three thaw-and-freeze cycles in the last week. Every road and sidewalk and parking lot surface that was not cleared of snow is now sheer ice. There isn’t enough sand in the world to try to make all these places safer to walk on, and so for the time being only highway intersections get the sand. Car safety matters more than pedestrian safety, of course, so most of us don’t walk anywhere right now.
I had some errands to run and while I was out and about I stopped at the liquor store to buy some wine. As I was pulling in to the parking lot I saw the aforementioned woman doing a theatrical penguin walk/Irish dance in front of me along the driving lane. She was wearing boots that were sadly inadequate for the task, but they were lovely to look at. They were a nice rose beige colour and were tastefully high above the ankle. The real problem was the heels. They were about one-and-a-half or two inches high and, apparently, without any kind of grips or rubber traction.
The lady continued her progress like a drunken Tanya Harding with arms akimbo, flailing in a vain attempt to create balance. I was relieved to see her reach the clear and dry sidewalk as I parked my car. Phew. She made it.
Just as I was paying for my wine, that same woman came to the counter behind me. While the cashier was handing me my receipt, she turned to the rose beige boots woman and politely reminded her that she should be wearing a mask. For some time now, it has been the law for us all to wear masks indoors in public places. Everyone knows this. Even small children know this. Boots lady, however, took immediate offence.
She responded with a pithiness that belied her demure appearance. After a brief refusal, she said “But thank you for offering me a free mask. And now you can just close your disgusting mouth,” or words to that effect.
The cashier was clearly in shock. She took a step back, raised her eyebrows, and then looked as me as if to say “Did I just hear what I think I heard?” I hope my eyes conveyed my similar dismay. Fortunately, the cashier responded authoritatively by saying “I did not offer you a free mask,” and then went about her work.
There were a million things I might have said or done, but I didn’t do any of them. I just closed my purse and left the store. If I was one of those people who think on their feet I would have said to Ms Boots, “Listen, lady. I’m 71 and if you are carrying the virus I can get sick enough to die. Wear a damned mask!” But, I didn’t. I just left.
As I walked out of the store I had a strange mixture of feelings. I felt bad for having laughed at the woman as she walked across the parking lot, but then after I saw her behaviour towards the cashier I felt she deserved more disdain than remorse. Is there a dismorse feeling? If so, that’s what I felt. Maybe it was because of that feeling that I gave $5 to the panhandler who was outside the store. I don’t know if he’s going to use it for food, drugs, or a bus ticket, but either way it made me feel better. I wanted to realign the imbalance in the universe, and for a brief moment I think I did.