Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stairway Etiquette

Last week, a friend of mine, Dan, scared the bejesus out of me when we he walked past me on the stairs at work. Why? He didn’t jump out or yell or trip me or anything like that. He simply said hello. The reason it scared me? Because I don’t look up when I’m on the stairs. I stare at my feet. Not because I’m so uncoordinated I may lose the stairway rhythm and stumble (that happens no matter where I’m looking). It’s because I’m totally self-conscious on public staircases. Not of my own lack of balance; it’s from the asses in front of me.

Think about it. Although the mechanical design of a staircase is sound for getting people from one story to the next (it’s better than ramps everywhere), the social design is entirely flawed. If you walk one stair behind the person in front of you, you’re essentially spooning and will get elbowed, slapped or called into the HR office for invading personal space. Plus you really don’t want to know what they had for breakfast through deduction. So we allow at least two, usually three, stairs between ourselves and the next person. However, at three stairs apart, when you look forward, you’re staring into the ass of a stranger; or worse, a colleague. Male or female, it’s just as frightening. So I stare at my feet to avoid seeing the ass of someone else consume my field of view. I’m sure I appear ridiculous or antisocial to others, but that’s OK.

I can’t look forward. It’s like having a conversation with someone who has a lazy eye. I try to play it cool and repeat in my head “stare at the bridge of their nose, stare at the bridge!” That way they feel like it’s genuine eye contact and I may not even notice their involuntary meandering. Instead I panic – I become captivated by the wandering eye and follow its every move like Emmitt Smith on the dance floor.

Hopefully you’ll be self-conscious the next time you hit the stairs at work or the mall so I don’t have to face my neuroses alone.

[Postscript: An Afterword]
Not sure if you care, but there are reasons for my self-consciousness on stairways that I thought I’d explain. When I walk behind a woman (a stranger), I notice when her pace quickens, or her back tightens, or she clutches her purse closer to her body. It kills me. I want to say, “Excuse me… I won’t touch you, rob you, rape you, or hurt you in any way.” But I don’t say anything and I certainly don’t take it personally because I understand. It’s the way of the world and you have to be cautious, aware of your surroundings at all times and keep your guard up.

And even if not threatened, I don’t want a woman to assume I’m staring at her ass. Or when facing each other, anything but her face. You know the old joke a woman says to a man: “Turn around. Now, what color are my eyes?” So when I talk to a woman, I look at her eyes, take note of the color just in case I’m ever pop-quizzed and fight the urge to look anywhere else – not because of a sexual deviancy, but because when someone says don’t look here, what’s the first thing you do? Yes, I overthink everything and constantly put myself into these ridiculous predicaments that are entirely self-created. Woody Allen ain’t got nothin’ on me.

And I’ve got to be one of the most non-threatening people on the planet. I’m not quite 5’6” and don’t have a swagger in my step, or an imaginary board up my bum. But I learned this because I am the cut point in any line. Anywhere there is a long line (waiting to board a plane, waiting to pee at an outdoor concert, or waiting to see Randy, Paula and Simon), I am the person that people walk in front of (and usually clip with their purse or elbow) when there is no gap in a line they need to cut through in a perpendicular fashion. No apologies or a “pardon me”. It’s almost like I’m not there. And they are never worried about my retaliation, which they somehow know just isn’t coming.

I’m not complaining about being viewed as threatening or entirely non-threatening; I just wish y’all would be consistent, that’s all.

Next week: Pranking people who insist on reading their BlackBerries while walking.

Oh, they’re [brown] [blue] [green] [hazel] [amber] [Thriller yellow] [bloodshot].

1 comment:

Esmerelda said...

I read my Blackberry while I walk, and I chew gum all at the same time.

Happy to say, you've never looked at my boobs when we've talked. That is a rare and TOTALLY appreciated behavior. Though I'd be shocked if you remembered the ACTUAL color of my eyes.