I was making a Target run when I noticed a woman walking toward me in the parking lot. She had a unique gait that caused her to rock slightly right to left as she walked. She wore her purse tight to her left hip. Its strap was on her right shoulder. She was eating potato chips from a yellow Lays bag.
As we neared one another she stopped, so I stopped thinking maybe she needed something. “I’m relevant” she said. I scanned the area for camera’s thinking this might be a set up for a TV show, but saw none.
“Congratulations,” I said, pronouncing it with an emphasis on the “la” and an extension on the “tions” making it sound as though I wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question, which I wasn’t.
I’d never had a stranger, or anyone for that matter, intentionally proclaim their relevance to me before like this. She engaged me. It didn’t feel right to just blow her off. I couldn’t just keep walking past her like I can walk past the people on the streets (or standing in the median at an intersection) in big cities holding cardboard signs with varying requests, statements or stories. Those I could walk past and ignore, averting my eyes downward and acting like they weren’t there. Here, in a suburban Target parking lot, where I’d already made the ‘good morning eye, with no-teeth showing smile, contact,’ continuing to walk past her didn’t feel like an option. I was stuck, so I stuck around.
“People really like what I’m writing on line” she continued, not telling me what it was she was writing on line. “I’m 61 and I still have value” she added, bolstering her relevant theme. She ate a few more chips and licked her fingers after. She was wearing a white cable knit type pull over sweater and pants that looked like they might be a polyester blend, with an expandable waist band. There was a small yellow stain on her sweater, near her heart. She was wearing plastic sunglasses with purple frames that reminded me of the kind you might see a little kid wear at the beach. Her hair was black with lots of gray. It was shoulder length and had a brittle texture. But it blew around easily with the wind and she had to move it away from her face often, leaving tiny potato chip remnants behind in her hair. I thought it might be softer than it looked if I touched it.
“I used to work at a Boston Store” she added. “When I was 40, they tried to get me to commit to working there for the rest of my life. Can you believe that? They thought that at 40 I only had one path left in life.” I listened, not feeling the need to encourage her, but interested and curious about where she was going to take this.
She shifted gears. “I was watching that old man over there” she said, looking into the direction of the guy rolling the shopping carts from the parking lot stalls back to the store. “They’ve got him putting the carts away,” she continued, with mild disdain, as if he, unlike she, had fallen for the Target version of the ‘Boston Store’ lifetime path she’d rejected.
“At least he’s working” I offered.
She didn’t respond.
Sensing our conversation may have run out of gas, I decided to make a move. “I wish you continued success” I said and took a step toward the store.
“I don’t” she said. “The expectations are too high, and I think people will get tired of my writing. Plus, people are stealing my stuff and using it as their own. Katy Perry just stole stuff from me….. again,” she sighed, as if she was exasperated. “I’m not going to do anything about it. she’d probably deny it anyway, because she doesn’t want to pay me the, you know, commission.” She hesitated. I waited. “I’ll probably never meet Katy Perry.”
Concluding, perhaps, that the conversation had run its course, she lifted the Lay’s bag and tilted her head back, dumping the crumbs into her mouth. She brushed the crumbs that missed from her sweater, the way a middle schooler might.
I told her to have a great day and went ahead with the Target run I’d come there for in the first place. She didn’t say anything more and probably thought there was no need. After all, she’d accomplished her mission, at least with me. She was a combination of mysterious and complicated, with a dash of strange thrown in for flavor, a recipe for relevance if there ever was one.
When I got to the store’s entrance, I looked back, because I had to. There was so much I thought to ask her in the few moments since I’d left her. I felt like I hadn’t added much to the conversation (which is typical, but frustrating). Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe what was important to her was what she wanted to say, and no more. She’d moved from the spot in the parking lot where we were talking and was walking toward the street, rocking back and forth as she did. I made notes about her after I’d finished shopping and got back in the car. Maybe she did the same about me? If she did, I’d like to read them online someday. I hope she would trust me not to “Katy Perry” her.
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