Now that the weather is making it bearable to walk around town, and the street(s) are filling up with faces both familiar and un, it seems a good time to go over something that people from other, denser locales do correctly by rote (or get very strong signals that they’re not, like getting hit on the head): pedestrian etiquette. To me, this matter falls into the category of public hygiene as much as washing ones hands after using the bathroom.
As a resident of Hudson for almost 11 years, I’ve learned that just walking around isn’t as easy as it sounds, particularly in a small town in which one knows almost everyone, and inevitably, about whom one might have a kaleidoscopic range of feelings. You very well might want to avoid one person one day and then, perhaps a month—or a year later—be perfectly happy to see them. In other words, negative feelings between us all might be inevitable –but, unlike in a big city, you tend to run into the person you’re feeling them about the next day; even if you’ve had a serious tiff or been the subject of a negative remark from them one day, you may very well find yourself a fond acquaintance just some time after…(and then back again, like an Our Town version of Nietzsche’s concept of The Eternal Return.) As the humor writer Paul Rudnick once said, “Be nice to everyone, because you never know.” (As far as what you say behind their back, that’s a whole separate matter; this not being a lesson in mind – or mouth– control)
Here are a few observations and guidelines on how to navigate our most public thoroughfare, Warren Street, without spreading a whole contagion of feelings you might not even realize you’re experiencing on a particular day.
How to jaywalk:
If you see someone you’d rather not run into walking toward you on the same side of the street, DO NOT automatically cross the street to avoid them. If you must do so, make sure they haven’t seen you yet….something that is sadly usually not the case, our streets having been laid out mostly in an unvarying grid. When this happens (and it will, it will), you have a couple of choices: You can gallantly offer a quick wave and then dash or, if too close, just suck it up and do the same while walking past the person. An actual “hiya” will win you a medal of honor, and perhaps a next life as a pampered dog. Obviously if you actually like the person do the same or more. (And be sure to look both ways when crossing.)
I know it’s allergy season and we’re all suffering from post nasal drip and all other forms of bothersome symptoms. If truly feeling the need to decongest one’s lungs in person, however (and you will, you will), do not do so right in front of someone, whoever they might be. Wait til everyone has well passed and be sure to aim toward the street (and not on someone’s car).
Do not stare with one’s mouth open:
I’ve been the victim of this and am not – from what I can gather, a particularly outlandish looking individual. Perhaps the starer (more like a glarer in some instances) is visiting Hudson from some tiny agricultural town in the area and is startled to see a groups of individuals wearing color-coordinated clothes — or something. Or perhaps they’re not seeing anything at all and are just in a state of disturbed contemplation. (One may as well assume this is anywhere near the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Police station/court, and hurry along.) Whatever the case, it’s not a certainty that they read this blog, so if you do and know someone who might fit this description, pass the info along.
All of the above thoughts can come down to the following dictum:
Arrange your face:
This was the memorable personal philosophy of Thomas Cromwell as depicted in Hilary Mantel’s wonderful Wolf Hall, a historical novel set in Tudor times telling the story of Thomas Cromwell and his rise in power and influence under Henry the Eighth. Not only did Cromwell himself flourish (at least for a while) while practicing this particular useful form of social dissembling, the thought would often come into his head when seeing someone like Anne Boleyn storming into Henry’s chamber in a rage– just when Henry was considering lopping off her head.
While I’m not advising that people walk around with a frozen Cheshire Cat rictus, Cromwell’s thinking seems like a good thing to keep in mind when meeting other people on the street. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting out of one’s own dark thoughts, and making sure that the face is at least a tabula rasa. As one might have noticed when seeing plastic surgery victims like Kim Novak at the Academy Awards, this part of our anatomy has many muscles and often, particularly after a bad night of sleep, can freeze into an unwitting scowl. Just in case, buy a copy of Carole Maggio’s Facercise and practice some of her techniques (pictured at left). Just be sure to do this in the privacy of one’s home or on some deserted side street. Scaring people half to death is also not a very hygienic thing to do in public.
– Scott Baldinger