The Evils of Sidewalk Chalk and Why I’m a Putz

by doodaddy on September 16, 2008



Mondays are vulnerable days I never seem emotionally prepared to handle. No surprise then, that yesterday I was yelled at once and was a yeller once and by midday I wanted to indulge in a fetal position for an hour or three.

And I’m the grownup.

* * *

You know that feeling when you forgot the cooler from the lunch you’d packed so you’ve just fed your daughter a lunch of nothing but pretzels, and then someone comes up to tell you that you’re being a jerk?

Yeah, me, too.

An older guy I’d never seen before was walking by the playground and asked me not to let Boo draw with sidewalk chalk, suggesting that perhaps she could draw on the perimeter road instead.

“Um… why?” I asked, bewildered.

“It’s really hard to clean off,” came the reply from this non-park employee.

I glanced over at the spot where we’d been drawing last Thursday and saw that no trace of our chalk remained. If you’re really enthusiastic about your sidewalk chalkery, mix it with water and really pound it into the pavement, it might last a week. But probably not.

“Um, doesn’t it sort of clean itself?” I replied, squeaking out the last few words in falsetto as my spit was drying up.

Wrong answer. A tirade came back about how this gentleman had been involved in the 30-year struggle to renovate the park and he wasn’t going to see it succumb to dogs and graffiti. (Pointedly looking at me, of course, the Fagin of the playground graffitists.) 

I was so mesmerized by vitriol that I missed entirely my beatific daughter swinging her imaginary friend Joey right into the head of a non-imaginary two-year old. Parenting is just a hobby for me, you know: intemperate discussions with park hotheads — that’s my real line.

At least I didn’t yell back. That came later.

* * *

Our bus route has an odd appendix — what would be called a “spur line” on a railroad. The northbound and southbound buses both turn off the main road to go a half a mile up our hill, stop at our stop, then turn around and go back down the way they came. One driver of the three or four who do the route regularly skips our spur completely if there’s no one on her bus. No matter if we’re waiting at the top of the hill, of course — that’s not her problem.

Today, she decided to skip the turnoff even over the delayed protests of we four passengers who live up the hill. As I struggled to collect Boo and our bag and dash off at the next stop, I yelled, “If you’re going to go off route, you at least have to warn us!”

My use of the term “off route” was calculated — that’s the box you check on the complaint form, which I did, of course, file. Righteously.

* * *

But you know what? I’m not that into anger, even of the righteous sort. I don’t like being mistreated or the feeling that I might be mistreating others. So despite feeling “in the right,” at the same time as I’m asking myself “Why can’t bus drivers be nicer?” I’m also going to be putting away our sidewalk chalk so we don’t offend the nice crackpot next time.

My strongest belief and my greatest fault are the same: the only good confrontation is an avoided confrontation.

I’m such a putz.

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tagged as , in community,failure,faux pas,oddparents,playground ·

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

David September 16, 2008 at 8:52 am

Don’t feel bad. I once reamed out an elderly disabled lady on the bus. Not one of my best moments. But it was her comment about the innate superiority of mothers over fathers that broke me out of my usually non-aggressive bus etiquette.


AMR September 16, 2008 at 12:08 pm

You’re not a putz. The guy who thinks sidewalk chalk = graffiti is the putz/doofus/idiot/etc.. You are human, however. We all lose our cool at times. Even “The Fonz” got angry at Ritchie every once in a while.


PJ September 16, 2008 at 1:46 pm

On one hand, needless confrontation is a bad thing. On the other, standing up for yourself is a good thing. Personally, I would just ignore chalk-nazi’s idiocy – don’t argue with him, just listen politely – and then go on and do as I pleased; *I* know I’m not doing any harm. If Boo asks why she can’t bring chalk to the park anymore, what are you going to say?


sugarplumsmom September 16, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Screw the sidwalk chalk nazi and take extra chalk next time. You’re keeping the park maintenance workers employed 😉 You know – the guys who come to sweep up the crap that people leave after their picnics when they can’t be bothered to walk 10 yards to the garbage can? And the guys who mow the lawn and come through with the leaf blower. Maybe Boobaby’s pictures make them smile.
And forget about the pretzel lunch.. when I was potty training Sugarplum, for 3 days I fed her popcorn, juice, water, nutter butters, goldfish, teddy grahams, cheese and some yogurt. One lunch of pretzels does not a crappy father make.


LizP September 16, 2008 at 2:31 pm

SF Muni drivers used to be nice … when I was a kid … a few decades ago.


Lynnie September 16, 2008 at 3:28 pm

I am such a sucker for responding with rage when people are critical of my parenting! You’re a saint not to have done so. But it does help to hold it in once in a while. Once a lady gave me a hard time about not having a hat on my daughter. Classic situation all parents encounter at one point or another, right? But she went on and on, even following me to the car to further make her point! I was puzzled but left without saying anything to her other than, “Well, I think it’s really not that cold.” Thank goodness, because I later found out she had a mental illness and hadn’t taken her medicine. And everyone in our community adored her and looked out for her.

By the way, how are you doing that thing where you respond to people personally in their email account? I thought that defied the laws of physics here on the internet! I’d love to occasionally respond to someone personally on my blog but thought their email addresses were hidden. If you get a spare second and feel pity for a non-technie, let me know!


orlund September 16, 2008 at 7:58 pm

I would have given the guy some chalk and asked him to draw me a pretty picture on the freeway but I guess you are much nicer than I. Parks are for kids to have fun. I think I just might have to buy my self some chalk.


doodaddy September 17, 2008 at 4:47 pm

@David, I’ve gotten that one so many times that I don’t even bother responding anymore, or I make a joke. Or maybe a little quiet “Wow, how incredibly wrong-headed and insulting” — gets ’em every time.


doodaddy September 17, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Ooooh, @AMR, you think I’m like the Fonz? Wow… I’ve never gotten such a compliment!


doodaddy September 18, 2008 at 12:19 am

If I’d ever seen a maintenance worker clean up chalk I’d’ve been more responsive…


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