Walking in the World of Safe People

But way back where I come from we never mean to bother

We don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern

And we walk in the world of safe people

And at night we walk into our houses and burn

An aging couple and their daughter came into a chiropractor’s office last week when I was in the waiting room. The father was in a cervical collar, walking carefully.

Car accident? Neck surgery?

“Hi Lottie!” they greeted the receptionist.

Ahh, regulars. I thought I was in there often.

Was this a family outing? Would they all be treated at the same time? Maybe it was a car accident and now dad can’t drive.

There were two empty chairs to the left of me, one to the right. I thought about moving so the family could sit together, but they shuffled into seats before I had the chance. And they picked up magazines and started reading. We sat in that same awkward silence in elevators, when you are in a close space with people you don’t know. You don’t know how much time you have, so you don’t know whether to start a conversation or not.

After a minute or two, the father noticed a small Santa figure standing against the wall in front of him. He pointed to it, and said to his wife quietly, “Look, Santa is crooked!”

He was right. Santa was slouching.

“He needs the doctor!” the father said.

That made me laugh.

Santa was standing under a sign that said “Alpine Chiropractic Wishes You Happy Holiday’s!”

Ugh. I wanted to tell the receptionist that their apostrophe was in the wrong place. I never would, though. Plus, the sign said “Coffee and Cookies in the Back!” which was sweet.

“Kat, do you know they have spray for toenail fungus?” the dad suddenly announced—across his wife’s and my laps—to his daughter.

Kat didn’t appear to hear him. “Huh, Dad?” She flipped a page in People.

“They have stuff for toenail fungus. You just spray it on!”

“Dad, I have psoriasis,” Kat said, shaking her head, and turning another magazine page.

Yep, Jublia won’t do much for psoriasis.

By then, I was wishing I had moved. Those were personal matters, toenail fungus and psoriasis.

Moments like this always make me think of Dar Williams’ song “Iowa”:

But way back where I come from we never mean to bother

We don’t like to make our passions other peoples concern

And we walk in the world of safe people

And at night we walk into our houses and burn

That same week, on my way to Hannaford, there was that guy standing next to his Dodge Ram on a back road during the snowstorm, with his truck off in the ditch, its grill splintering a tree. He was standing by the side smoking a cigarette. What was his story? Did he have someone to call? He seemed so relaxed for having just hit a tree.

Or what about that young couple wearing pajama pants and Chucks into the store, arguing on their way in? Did they decide it would be fun to wear their pajamas to the market? Or did they not talk about their clothing at all, and just went, and somewhere along the way, an old argument began?

There was a three-year-old boy standing in the bakery, holding a tiny white cupcake with bites missing, his little fist shaking and cries rising in his chest. He was so angry about something, and his mother was trying to console him.

At the chiropractor’s, Lottie came out from behind the counter and handed the family a cardboard box.

“What’s this?” the father said, awkwardly trying to peer inside.

“It’s homemade cream puffs and chocolate sauce! When you go to serve them, put vanilla ice cream inside and the sauce on top.”

Wow. They really were regulars.

And I’ve never found a way to say I love you

But if the chance came by, oh I, I would

“When you leave here, make sure you refrigerate the sauce,” Lottie said.

After grateful thanks and much mumbled appreciation, they put the box on the floor and Lottie went back behind the counter. This was kind of nice, hanging out with this family.

Mom then said to the daughter, “Kat, if you guys come for Christmas, we will have to have these!”

And Kat looked up. She said, “That’s what I was thinking too, Mom.”