Sunday, August 08, 2004

Second Reaction

Allison Kaplan Summer described her favorite blogs as the ones that help us “get a feel for what it is like to be someone else, living a different life and opening ourselves to their experience.” Yes, blogs might do that. And so do cars, apparently.

The haircut place is packed, so I’d had plenty of time to socialize with the stylist who never seems to have any clients and with the women not isolated under blow dryers. (Very Steel Magnolias, this salon. Or maybe the scene is chatty because the magazines are so lame.) Just before I leave, the 17-year-old who had been complaining to me about summer school goes outside to take a cell phone call. She is standing in the doorway as I climb into my vehicle—a blue Volvo with a baby seat in back. And suddenly I see myself as this kid might see me. Or — because I don't flatter myself to think that the kid is all that interested — as some other, oddly observant stranger might read me.

If anyone cared to study my car that day, that person could have deduced that I’m a professor of conservation science who works at Prestigious University several towns away. (See the parking pass? See the bumper sticker about not treating our soil like dirt?) My husband, the doctor, works in Prestigious University’s Hospital trauma unit. (See the i.d. card and printed lanyard on the keychain?) Our infant daughter, Sienna (see the personalized baby pillow?), shares the backseat with our three enormous dogs (See the bars of the doggy divider? See how those pooches have shed?)

This isn’t my life, of course. This is the life of a woman whom we’ve only recently met – a woman whose car we are temporarily garaging so the she didn’t have to leave it at the airport all month. This is her car that I’ve elected to drive only this once (despite her assurance that we could use it anytime), on a day of the haircut, in a week that our own car is on loan to someone else.

It’s possible she’ll become a friend someday. For now, we’re barely acquaintances — affable strangers whose intersection derives exclusively from the friend we have in common. But today I sit in the woman’s car and think about all the tiny artifacts (the Argentine flag on the dashboard, the soccer cleats on the floor of the back seat). These point to a life decidedly not mine, but today encountered in intimate, imaginary close-up.

I pull up alongside our food co-op, where a mother with two children applauds my Veterans for Peace bumper sticker. I smile and glance downward, catching notice of the solitary item in the driver’s-side-door pocket: a dilapidated nail file, more cardboard than grit. A rush of tenderness for this emblem of anxiety or impulse. Of pensive moments snatched from the noisy day.

Mine? Or maybe his? Something we use on the dogs?

I shake my head and got out of the car.

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