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Mary Marcus: Strangers on the Hampton Jitney

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I saw her again today, in town, a woman who once told me her life story when we were sitting next to one another on the Jitney from Manhattan to East Hampton some years ago. It was in my pre-Henry days, when I was traveling without dog. She told her life story on a Friday, and when I saw her the next day on Main Street in town, waved and said hi, she looked at me blankly like she’d never seen me before and turned away. And in fact, she hadn’t during our three-hour drive asked me a single question about myself. I was a perfect stranger, or shall I say, a perfect looking glass to her.

I’m guessing she’s close to sixty.

She thin, physically fit, sharp featured, and she’s got this great thick thatch of badly dyed hair –and her haircut is worse than her dye job. Since I heard her life story, and know where she lives in town, in one of the huge houses near the Maidstone Club, – she lives in one house and her husband lives next to her in another. With all that bread, how come the terrible haircut and the bad dye job?

I confess, I’m one of those people who seems to illicit life stories from total strangers. I don’t think it’s my face, I think it’s something fundamental like in my pheromones. Something I’m giving off, seems to tell people to give me their life stories, every detail. It’s been happening to me my entire life. In the semi gloom of a movie theatre a woman once told me her life story and kept on going until well into when the feature started. It’s probably why I ended up writing.

She has three children, one of whom is special needs. Her husband assembled one of the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, her mother was at the time, over a hundred years old and lived in a town house on the upper east side, attended to by a staff and grew orchids. I thought of Nero Wolfe when she told me about the rooftop greenhouse and the orchids, and of course, of General Sternwood in The Big Sleep. She goes to town once a week to visit her mother. And she hates her.

I’ve had Henry for three years now, so I’m guessing I sat next to her about five years ago. Since then, I often run into her. Striding purposefully forth, unencumbered by the purse or handle bag she’s swinging her arms and looking forward. To her credit whenever I see her walking whether in town, in the summer with her long skinny legs, or in the winter with her expensive Cossack hat on, striding like a Russian aristocrat perfect posture down the street, she is never talking on the phone, she isn’t hooked up to a program while she exercises—something I’ve noticed an alarming amount of people seem to be doing at the ocean. What’s better than the sound of the ocean? I even like the ocean app on my phone, even a phony baloney sound of the ocean is better than no ocean at all, yet, go tell that to resolute vacationers jogging along to their playlists

Philosophy professors always declare the world is divided into Aristotelians and Platonists. I’ve always been in the Aristotle camp. The stranger on the Hampton Jitney fulfills one of the great man’s highest ideals: she’s the unmoved mover. She has no idea who I am, probably doesn’t remember having blabbed her life story to me, yet, every time I see her, I’m invariably moved and go on to think of many things I would not have embarked upon had I not caught a glimpse of her.

Today, when I was rounding the corner on Main Street with Henry and my various bags from bookstore, health food store and grocery store, she was coming from Newtown Lane, as always, completely unencumbered. She was in athletic shorts, the kind with no pockets and a little sleeveless running top. Other than sunglasses, she didn’t have a single accessory. I deduced she wasn’t carrying keys—why should she when she was walking distance from home, some member of her staff was always there to open a door, feed her a meal, etc. Yet, in all the years I’d seen my unmoved mover, I’d always seen her alone.

I thought about this poem my mother used to recite,

Oh, fat white woman whom nobody loves?

Why do you walk through the field in gloves?

My mother has been dead now for more than half my life. I’m mad at her a lot, sorry for her a lot and now after I saw the woman again, I’m sure it’s time to let go of everything negative, and be damned grateful for what I’ve got.

Family, friends, Henry, a good shrink, Union benefits, a roof over my head and a mother, however difficult and long dead, who recited poetry and gave me books.

Here’s the rest of the poem: My mother was reciting it wrong or she remembered it wrong. According to the great sages at Google, Philip Larkin (one of my faves—and someone, my mother never heard of) was a big fan of the poet.

To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

Missing so much and so much?

O fat white woman whom nobody loves,

Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

When the grass is soft as the breast of doves

And shivering sweet to the touch?

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

Missing so much and so much?

— Frances Cornford

Mary Marcus

Mary Marcus is the author of The New Me and critically acclaimed Lavina. Visit her website for more.

 

 

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On July 16, 2015
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