Coon Rapids, MN – September 24, 2012
I just raised my hand to wave hello when the old man beat me to it, jumping off his bench like an angry hornet.
“What the hell are you doing there! Get! Get!” the man screamed, charging toward me. “What the hell’s wrong with you? Can’t you read the signs?”
I backed up a few feet and stared at him, confused.
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.
“Walking right past the signs thinking you could get away with it,” he shouted. “We’re trying to pave the sidewalk here. Go back and read the signs.”
I glanced back toward the river wondering what he was talking about.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What signs?”
He pointed to the parking lot a hundred feet in the opposite direction, then stuck his finger at me and jabbed it in the air as he spoke.
“You just walked right past them,” he said. “You have no respect for anything.”
I looked over and laughed, understanding the confusion.
“No,” I said. “I’m sorry, I came from the river. There aren’t any signs over there.”
“The signs are all over,” he said. “You had to walk right past them!”
I laughed again and tried to explain that I came from the river, never passed his signs, and that there was no way for me to read a ten-inch sign from a hundred feet behind it, but he marched me over to the parking lot where there were a half-dozen signs and some yellow tape across the entrance to the sidewalk. He’d built a wall, a fortification of signs to keep people off the sidewalk.
“Can’t you read?” he said, his face red, his chest puffed out like a balloon.
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry I walked on your sidewalk–”
“You should have read the signs,” he interrupted.
“–but I came from the river and there aren’t any signs over there,” I said.
He looked at me for a moment. I was still wearing my spray skirt and life jacket, so I either came from the river or thought I might drown in the park bathroom. I looked at his wall of signs, his Maginot Line of paper and yellow tape, and wanted to tell him that sidewalks work in two directions.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I had no idea.”
He glared at me.
“You wouldn’t have read them anyway,” he said.
“Mister,” I said. “I’m sorry I walked on your sidewalk, but it looked dry to me. I wouldn’t have walked on it if I’d known you were working on it. I came from the river and there are no signs down there.”
He glared at me, fuming mad, scratching his fingers underneath his hat, his face frozen in a snarl.
“You’re just like all these women,” he said. “They read the signs and then walk right by.”
He said it like I should care that he was associating me with women, those rule-breaking women who don’t walk where they’re told, like somehow I would be offended by the idea and not flattered, but I just laughed and saw him for the cranky, old man he was.
“Mister,” I said, as sweet as I could muster, pouring it on, knowing it was the last thing he wanted, “I’m happy to take a few of your signs with me and put them down at the other end where people can see them coming off the river.”
He stared at me, then the signs, then the sidewalk.
“No,” he said.
“You sure?” I asked again. “I wouldn’t want anyone to walk on your sidewalk. I’d be happy to help you out.”
He knew I was right, he knew that he’d made a mistake, that sidewalks work in two directions, that he should have put signs on both ends if he wanted people to stay off of it. And I knew he hated me for it.
“Walk on the grass going back,” he growled.
“I prefer it.” I said without turning around.
As I walked away I heard him order one of his buddies to move a few signs to the other end. He sounded grouchy as ever and I smiled.
“They do exist,” I thought.
People search for the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot for decades without turning up a singe clump of hair. It only took me three months to find a Mean Minnesotan. Not too bad as far as mythical creatures go.