I think we all have a personal catharsis: for some of us, it's some good screaming into a pillow, throwing something across the room, or (for you crazy people) running half marathons. I didn't always know this, but mine is a chop--of the hair that is. My most recent haircut inspired me to some reflection, and as a writer's imagination tends to do, mine starting looking for some deeper meaning.
I'm going to tell you what I think is a pretty funny story about living in a small town.
During the summer after my sophomore year of college, I was working at the park in my hometown as a ride operator. This job is more difficult to explain than it should be. It's a community park like any other, with grass and picnic tables and playgrounds and the city pool, but there's also a blacktop with permanent carnival rides - some of the sort that you imagine pulling into town on a truck and leaving after the fair is over in a week. There's a carousel, ferris wheel, a child-size roller coaster, a train, and a few more: all different variations on going around in a slow to moderately paced circle, we realized one day. When people hear "ride operator," they seem to think of Cedar Point or somewhere much more thrilling, and I think that's what's so confusing.
Anyway, I was sitting in the operator's hut at the swing ride (yes, just swings that go around in a circle), waiting to yell at pre-teens not to drag their feet on the ground, when a man stepped up to the fence and said hello to me.
I returned his greeting politely, but without engaging. There'd been creepy men before who'd tried to ask for mine or my coworkers numbers or waste our time by flirting before we told them to leave us alone. The first line of defense was to not give them the time of day to begin with. But he kept talking and asked if I was feeling ok. I said something to the extent of "sure," not really understanding what he meant.
Then he asked, "You don't remember me, do you?" My first thought was that he was someone who knew my dad, because my dad is one of those people who knows everyone. I tried to recognize the man's face, but I was drawing a blank, so I had to tell him I didn't remember.
"I was the EMT who took you in the ambulance the other day," he revealed like this kind of thing happened to him all the time.
I should explain, but not in a lot of detail: I half-passed out while getting in my shower just a few days, maybe a week, before. Needless to say we all panicked, and it turned out to be nothing, just a combination that I'd woken up too fast and the shower had been too hot. But since I did not faint often, I think my parents and I were all just a bit taken by surprise. My brother had to reschedule his college visit because of it, but I don't think he cared at all.
The man had brought his kids out for a day at the park, and he said he recognized me because of my platinum blonde hair (in those days, it was just about blinding to look at). Now, he was just waiting for them to get off the swings and thought he'd ask me if everything went well. I told him exactly what the doctors told me - that it was nothing unless it happened again soon (it didn't).
I'm not really trying to wring some moral out of this, though I could if I wanted to: that there are everyday heroes walking among us, that no kind deed is too small to be noticed, that we all touch and affect each others lives in the smallest way without even meaning to but that can alter a course of a lifetime. While I probably believe that all those things are true, really all this story is about is that it's funny, in a small town like the one I grew up in, that you run into people all the time, and that people wear a lot of hats. The EMT is also a dad who spends Saturdays with his kids. The bouncer at the bar or the person behind the counter at the drugstore is someone you went to school with. Your former math teacher shops at your family's garage sale. All I'm saying is that it reminds me that other people are people too.
If you've got any good small town stories, feel free to share in the comments!