The Guy Who Walks

June 2001

Coming home from the post office last Saturday, I saw a sign for “Yard Sales” on Elizabeth Street, and turned the corner in search of treasure. A gentleman with a large moustache was leaning back in a folding chair, and at his feet was a wooden box filled with old bottles. My heart leapt. “How much are the bottles today?” I asked, and he said, “Fifty cents.” I found two patent medicine bottles from Buffalo, a round-shouldered amber bottle from the Excelsior Springs in Syracuse, and the star of the quartet, a pale green squarish bottle bearing the mark “Elgin Polish, Chicago.” As I was handing him two dollars, the man looked at me and said, “Are you the guy who walks?”

Indeed, I am the guy who walks, the Village Pedestrian. And walking home from work this week in the first ninety-degree heat we’ve had in two years, my memory has been drawn back to a winter sidewalk in Buffalo, New York. I don’t know how the mind works, but the memory has been playing all week.

My mother was gone that day and I had a sitter. She was about three times taller than me and when she bundled me up and took me outside, I had to reach up to hold her hand, tip my head back to see her face. We walked about five houses down and came upon a snowball fight. There was about a foot of fresh snow on the ground and it was good packing. She probably felt my hand pulling away from hers, and she said, “Don’t throw a snowball.”

I heard her clearly. I could have listened. But the boys were laughing, the white stuff was flying and my heart began to sing. All my short life, I had been an onlooker at the window sill, a would-be warrior on a far off hill. Here at last was my chance to live, to set a rubber-booted foot on the field of battle.

In an instant I had stooped down, packed a snowball and hurled it at two boys who were standing about ten feet away. My lumpy missile plopped at their feet, and I squatted to pack another, giddy with joy. I looked up to see if they were fleeing.

The first snowball smacked me squarely in the left eye, coming in under the bill of my leather cap at about 90 miles an hour. That alone would have been enough to teach me a valuable lesson. But a heartbeat later, a second icy sphere nailed my right eye, fast, hard and dead center. My disillusionment was complete. My world was black and filled with pain. And I could hear the babysitter saying, “I told you not to throw a snowball.”

She repeated that truism as she led me stumbling home, my wet woolen firing hand clasped firmly in hers. My sight returned slowly as my snowsuit was being removed, the darkness receding to leave only a red smarting and humiliation, and awe at the aim of the two young marksmen. I had apparently taunted Robin Hood and William Tell. Who knew they lived in Buffalo?

Perhaps this memory was sent to me as a reminder me that I am lucky to be walking on the sidewalks of Skaneateles during the summer ­ miles, seasons and years away from the temptation to do battle with bigger boys.

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