Friday, October 30, 2009

Watch Your Step

In the city, you've really got to watch where you’re going. Sure, you might get carried away having an animated conversation with your husband on your way to the train for a hotly-anticipated date, but if you don’t pay attention, you might just slip in a lake of vomit on the train platform, and it might splash up onto your legs as your husband grabs your elbow and valiantly keeps you from falling down into the puke. Then you’re going to have to look for a patch of grass or some rainwater so you can clean off your shoe before you go into the restaurant. And forget about eating. You’d better just have a cocktail, because every time you think about those fleshy-looking chunks swimming around beneath your feet, you’re going to feel like barfing too.

Oh, and when you’re looking for that patch of rainwater to clean off your shoe, don’t forget that time you took your daughter to the playground after school and the other kids were splashing around in a big puddle, and another parent told you it was pee. Some kid had dropped his drawers and whipped it out right there in the middle of the jungle gym. If you wash vomit off your shoe with urine, is that an improvement? Maybe – you do always hear that urine is sterile. So okay, go ahead. Look for a puddle of rainwater, or possibly pee, to rinse your foot in.

Do you ever wonder what you’d do if you stumbled on a crime scene? A dead body, a blood-spattered room, a murder in progress? Would you faint? Become hysterical? Maybe you’d be very rational and composed and call the police and keep it all together until you got home. Me, I’m a screamer - here's how I know.

One rainy Sunday we stopped at the Diana Ross playground in Central Park – a playground we’d never visited before – and the girls played happily while I went through my bag and cleaned out the detritus of an afternoon with children. My hands were full of used tissues and granola bar wrappers as I walked around the unfamiliar playground, casting around for a trash can. I was looking, but I was looking for a trash can, not looking right in front of me. I was striding around purposefully when I stepped on something that rolled beneath my foot and felt disgustingly squishy; soft but sinewy and inexpressibly icky. I whipped around to see what it was, and it took me a second to comprehend what I saw: something hideous and partially flattened, with nasty little scrabbly claws, trying desperately to crawl away – I didn't know if it was a rat or a squirrel or a mutant creature from the sewer. It looked like the Eraserhead baby, with claws. True to the cliché, time stood still, but probably less than a second passed. I looked at the gruesome creature, drew a deep breath, and screamed for all I was worth. I screamed as if someone was being murdered. Heads turned toward me as I pointed and shrieked.

Of course, it was a squirrel. A sick squirrel, surely. A regular squirrel doesn't just hang out and wait to be stepped on, does it? I suppose I broke its back. I’m sure it suffered, and I ought to feel sorry, but really I just feel affronted – indignant that that horrid little rodent had the nerve to get in my way. Thank God it had been raining that day – what if I’d been wearing something besides rain boots? What if I’d been wearing flip-flops?

That night I dreamed that there were rats in my shoe. I couldn't get them out. They kept multiplying; fur and claws and fleshy, swishy tails against my skin, crawling, trapped between my shoe and my foot. When I woke up, I could still feel them.