Worked in the car-exempt garage, door swung up, tenoning cedar for a planter set until my back seized up and it was time to move along. Nice out, in that Seattle spring way: partly overcast, light slanting orange under the clouds near the end of daylight, not quite cold and not quite windy, and it wasn’t pissing bitter rain right then.

I clipped on the leash and walked out with my pretty Dane, not bothering to change out of shop motley because why? Nobody would even be on the same side of the street. We walked up 12th, the dog mumble-snuffling while I sang softly to her, same foolish nonsense as usual but maybe a little louder, a little less under my breath because who?

Shop hat dragged down over my ears, I never heard her coming. It’s not my usual walking hat – those have brims to keep the sunset out of my eyes and the rain off my glasses. Those are fine felt hats for serious adults but this hat is custom-made to be goofy, a commission from Pretty Wife to a friend for a birthday or some-such occasion. Knitted from dark wool, it sports fuschia lettering screaming off the front: “J-U-I-C-Y.”

Near as I can tell, it’s a feminist zombie brains joke. Flattering, if you look at it just right – the sentiment, not the hat. I look like an overage skateboarder when I wear it, but shop hats shouldn’t have brims. Too easy to knock a good hat off my braincase onto the dusty, greasy floor anytime I reach under a machine to turn something on, make an adjustment, or pick up whatever I just dropped.

I drop a lot of things, too; forget a lot of things. I cut more mistakes into more workpieces than I remember doing. Not as juicy as planned, or maybe hoped, but I still keep that hat. Still warms my ears when it’s sunny, but in the forties.

So we were walking along, singing and sniffing to each other, and that’s maybe why I never heard her coming. The old bitch planted her paws to sniff something and while I was adjusting to that, I felt a little jostle and heard a rustle – FFFFT — and then she was past us, running right along at a pretty good pace.

She wore shorts under a sweatshirt tied around her waist, bleached ponytail, and a jog bra jersey easing toward saffron, more than a shade or two lighter than my JUICY legend. She was moving pretty well, short but leggy. Almost a tan, which is hard to come by around here, this time of year. Obviously putting in the time.

No wave or acknowledgement, but then I’m used to that. She was maybe 20, with innocent white ear buds trailing across her little pink lobes, running toward her future while I shuffle through my age of invisibility. That doesn’t bug me. I’ve got kids older than her.

What maybe bugged me was that my first thought wasn’t “thanks for the view, honey!” It was closer to “why the fuck didn’t you cross the road, woman?” I watched her run on up the street, not pausing to cross 180th because traffic here is hushed to nearly nothing, and was mostly nonplussed by the elbow brush. The age of social distancing is no country for dirty old men.

Watching her run, smaller and smaller, I wondered why I hadn’t heard her footfalls. I could hear birds. I could hear every sough of the wind. I could hear my leggy little hound snuffle, hear her blow excited bubbles whenever she found something that smelled gossipy. Not only hadn’t I seen that girl the way you see girls, I hadn’t heard her the way I heard everything else, all the sounds standing out stark against the shrieking, unaccustomed lack of white noise from nearby tires and the middle-distant freeway and the modest, normal hurly-burley of North City.

There are places that are supposed to be this quiet, and I love those places. I love this place, too, but it’s not supposed to be this quiet.

We turned uphill at 180th and headed for the “strip.” Two or three restaurants were still open for takeout. Each had one client inside, leaning over the counter like they were freshly delivered of a desert island banishment. We walked along, taking all the time she wanted to sniff anything there was. Behind the big apartment building on the corner, she got to explore the entire pooping area, off-leash. No one emerged to complain. No one walked past with a tiny dog on a 50-foot zing lead, yapping insanely.

A young woman hove toward us on the broad sidewalk. She was dressed about like me: like clothes don’t matter, as long as they kept the weather off. She had a knit cap, too, pulled down over a dye job in deep need of a professional refreshment that is not likely imminent. T-shirt, hoodie, some sort of pants…do we all dress this way now? One’s camera can always malfunction during meetings, provided one is rudimentarily competent in the affixment of small pieces of tape.

She moved over by the street trees and I zigged along the edges of parking lots, both of us smiling briefly, pro forma. One benefit of the times we swim through is that I don’t have to wonder whether I spooked her, or if the big dog put her off. We all just naturally repel each other slightly, like lazily mismatched magnets. For the first time in memory, it’s not a man’s world and it’s not a woman’s world.

It’s an introverts’ world.

She’d been around the block, down to 175th, and was hooking back our way. I saw her stride up the opposite side of the street, saffron top puffing in and out like a determined little bellows, eyes unfocused, deep in the zone. It wouldn’t’ve mattered what day of what week of what year it was. She was in her own world, subsumed in motion.

One young man obstructed her sidewalk, just past the corner where he had waited, for unfathomable reasons, for the light to change before crossing the road. There were no cars. He did not cross and she headed straight at him, not looking, eyes half-closed, head bobbing to her music and the rhythm of steps, the perfection of her health, and the sureness of her place.
She still wasn’t watching as the man retreated toward the darkened Les Schwab tire shop, one foot in a planter bed, scrambling out of her way. Sailing by, she half-stepped out to the side, smooth as a no-look pass, and brushed him with her elbow.


I saw him watch her go, past the crown of the hill and down toward 195th. She was flying now: smooth, confident, perky, limited by nothing.

He looked like someone had smacked him with a board.

It was still pretty out, but it was darkening. I bribed my dog with a Milk Bone fragment and we headed for home, detouring around people like you do, all both of them.

When we got back, I shut down the garage door and locked up. I took off my shirt, inside out, Pretty Wife looking at me funny as I dumped it into the wash basket. That’s an old flannel shop shirt, one further button loss away from becoming a shop rag. I typically toss it in the wash only when it’s so dusty that you can’t tell it’s plaid anymore.

I washed my hands to the elbows, wiped down the doorknobs, and got into the shower. She knocked, pulled the curtain, and smiled in at me.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sweetie. I’m fine.” I stuck my head under the hot water, held it there.

“Everything’s fine.”


  1. Because for some folk nothing exists except them.

    And bugs. Which give no fscks and don’t yield. She’ll be so in the zone she’ll never know where she ran into them — because everything gets out of her way.

  2. Henry Gerber says

    Good one! Thanks Jack.

  3. Mr. William M Treadway says

    Nice little tidbit. I could feel the weather.
    Too bad her situational awareness is so poor.

  4. Robert P says

    Damn man. Thank you.

  5. Sebastian Hammer says

    Loved it. Thanks!

  6. Happened yesterday on the Elkhorn loop

    • There’s a term in medicine “paradoxical responder,” referring to people whose bodies respond to medication in unexpected ways.

      I don’t know what the term would be for socially paradoxical responders to a crisis that can be understood in fairly simple terms, but I feel strongly that there should be one.

      These are odd times.

  7. Always a pleasure to read your words of observation.

    I notice the traffic patterns of shopping carts in the produce section these days, how everybody is a Frogger or a PacMan, reversing course to avoid crossing paths or being too close to another. I’ve seen folks avoid aisles that have other shoppers, as it’ll require a close pass. And yet, I also see the polite nods and yields, as everyday politeness has returned. “We’re all in this together” goes unspoken but recognized.

    Thanks, Jack.

  8. Amen to that. Yes.

  9. Oh Jack! The FFFFT you heard was the invincible among us, immune to so very many things, including compassion and empathy. God bless and keep you sir, we need ya!

  10. Allan Wyatt says

    She is our future. Self-consumed, arrogantly and ignorantly self-righteous. Because why not? It’s about her. All about her. Was it malevolent? No. She just can’t think beyond her own little world and those of us daring to be in it. How rude of us… I can guarantee you she uses “OK, Boomer” and means it….

  11. Mr. William M Treadway says

    Not sure I agree entirely. There’s no doubt we’ve raised a group of self-involved people who, like all punks, think they are or can find the answers. The greatest challenge they face is finding a challenge that involves their personal well being, not their peers approval. They now all wanna be different…together.

    • I’ve never asked anyone to agree with me entirely. Per Patton, IIRC: “If everyone’s thinking the same, someone isn’t thinking.”

  12. Dan Souliere says

    Nice piece, Thanks again!

Speak Your Mind