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



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.