Friday, July 24, 2009


These days, more than ever before, you’re apt to find me out and about, talking to myself. Not that you’ll hear serious confidential conversation about my finances or my love life! No, don’t hope for that. But you might hear me offer a cheerful “Hi!” or maybe, “Yes, isn’t it?” Look around to see who I’m talking to. Chances are, you’ll see nobody.
Cell phones have changed my world. Used to be—and this is what happens if you carry a white cane announcing that you are blind—that strangers would approach me without so much as a hello. “You’re doing fine,” they’d say, not seeing anything I was about to bump into. Alternately, I’d hear, “Curb coming up in 20 feet.” All this was clear enough, still is, for that matter. But many strangers would simply say, “Hi!” or “Nice day, isn’t it?” and I, of course would reply.
Cell phones have changed everything. Here I am, walking down a quiet street, meeting a stranger on the sidewalk. “Hi!” he says. “How are you doing?”
“Fine!” I say.
“I’ll be home in fifteen minutes,” he says.
And it’s oh dear! He as talking on a cell phone. I am talking to myself. What will he think? What if somebody else hears and thinks I’m the kind of person who talks to myself?? Even worse, what if he feels sorry for me because I'm a blind person who can't tell when somebody's talking on a cell phone? I square my shoulders and try to look like the kind of person who talks to herself and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks.
Another day, another encounter. “There’s a big hole!” says a stranger.
Dead in my tracks I stop. Long ago I learned to pay attention to such cues. I think the defining moment was the time I didn’t really listen when somebody mumbled, “Wet concrete!”
Images of the Grand Canyon pop into my head. A big hole? Where? How can I get around it? Will it swallow me up? Patiently I stand, hoping the hole won’t grow. Stranger hurries by. “I know you don’t have time for sewing,” he whines. “That’s why I’m late. I’m taking it to the tailor.”
“You aren’t talking to me,” I say. I didn’t mean to say it out loud, didn’t think I had. But then a second stranger says, “No, I wasn’t.”
Cheeks hot with embarrassment, I will the bus to come, and it does, around the time when it’s supposed to. Safely seated I pull out my cell phone and dial home. “Hello!” he answers.
“Hi,” I say.
“How long until I should start the potatoes?” he says.
“What time is it now?” I ask.
“5:30,” says the person beside me.
And the world is not the predictable place it used to be.

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