At the Fireworks

She had a blanket, about five feet square, that she laid out in front of her chair. It was one of those camp or stadium blankets, brown, white and red, and pretty well worn. I assumed she was saving a spot for others who would show up later. She was an average, older, probably retired woman who, along with her husband, had set up their chairs near us at the Wauwatosa village pavilion for a concert and fireworks on July 4th.

We’d arrived early and settled in next to them for a night of entertainment by a Beatles memorabilia band followed by a patriotic celebration. And people watching. You know how it is when you just know someone is open to a chat. Well, she was not. In fact, she and her husband spoke to no one and not hardly to each other the entire evening. Her crossed arms and scowl were not exactly welcoming.

Coming from lives where yards are clearly defined by fences and work areas by cubical walls, this seemed the other end of the spectrum with only the confines of a blanket to mark personal territory. Perhaps that was the challenge for this woman while clearly not for others.

As the crowd grew, there was almost a constant stream of traffic, walking around and on the edge of her blanket as people searched for a way through the growing deluge. They got it that they were treading where they shouldn’t with their quick, tippy-toe walk.

Next time I looked her way, she’d moved her chair onto the right side of the blanket. Now people had to step around her in order to make their way down the hill. As more and more chairs were set up, the pathway shrunk.

Then she moved her chair again, blocking the small opening on the right between a neighbor’s chair, her chair and the end of the blanket. By crossing her leg, she dangled her foot so that it blocked the opening. When a woman tried to get through and asked to be excused she actually said no and wouldn’t let her pass.

After more and more people continued to tippy toe on her left, her husband moved his chair onto the blanket so the other pathway was also blocked. Poor fellow, I thought, playing his part in this petty drama just to keep peace in the family.

As the fireworks neared, the crowd of latecomers increased and soon we were almost shoulder to shoulder. But the area of the empty blanket prevailed. So my theory that she was saving room for family or friends seemed smashed. Maybe she’s claustrophobic. Maybe just odd. Whatever it was we knew we were surrounded by all manner of humanity and continued to enjoy the observing.

In front of us were three families who obviously knew each other. Each had their own blanket spread side-by-side and the children meandered from one to the other. There was the man who talked constantly to his friends, even non-stop throughout the fireworks. We laughed that maybe his wife makes him be quiet at home and this is his only chance to let it all out.

One couple had a new-born, a two year old and two older boys, probably eight and ten years old. These two boys were friends with the eight year old from the family next door. The couple closely watched and shared caring for the youngest two but seemed to barely keep track of the boys. I can see how easy it is to lose a child in these public places. The three boys had no understanding about shared space and played a raucous game of catch, hitting us several times with their beach ball. The eight year old looked perplexed when I nicely said that this was rude. A word he’d never heard before, obviously. No intervention by nearby parents.

As the fireworks ended and children became cranky with their tiredness, the parents rounded up their belongings and headed home. The woman with the blanket had jockeyed for position right up to the end. Finally, she gathered her precious belongings and headed out, probably to the comfort of her fenced in yard.

I wondered why people with no concern for others or those who don’t seem to like people very much come to these public, crowded spaces. Maybe they should stay home. For me, I’m glad I came.

But I was also quite happy to return to the quiet and peaceful domain of my private place. By next year, I’ll probably be ready to venture out again into the teeming and unorganized world to study the dynamics of personal space. Oh wait. In a few weeks I’m going to a major league baseball game. We’ll we how that goes.

 

 

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