I’ve long been a proponent of never ever ever going barefoot in Baltimore, easily the filthiest city I’ve ever seen (and no, I haven’t been to India, but yes, I have been to the Dominican Republic, Belize and New York City). This morning, on my way to work, I was provided a fresh reminder as to why barefooting in Baltimore is a bad idea: in addition to the usual generalized grime and galaxy of gum stains I see every day, I also walked past a puddle of fresh vomit next to the low brick wall outside the Waverly 7-11, where the Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes sit. (Not an uncommon sight in this junkie-riddled town, by the way. Vomit, I mean, not Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although…)
So I was fascinated by the sight that greeted me in the ATM lobby of a bank on St. Paul Street in Charles Village. A barefoot woman in her middle 20s, otherwise dressed for work in white button-down shirt and tan pants, stood at one of the two ATMs. I thought she might have left a pair of painful high heels in her car while running in for some cash. As I inserted my card into the other machine, hers made a scolding beeping sound. She wrenched her card from the slot with obvious impatience and turned to go.
Behind us waited a young man in a dark shirt and suit, no tie, glamorous longish hair falling around his face. He and the woman seemed to know each other.
“Not enough?” he asked, with a smile.
She skidded to a stop and made a show of controlling a sharp remark by taking a deep breath.
“Good morning, Omar, how are you?” she asked. Her tone was frosty.
“OK,” he answered, slowly. “How are you?”
“I woke up without my shoes, I don’t know where I am, and I have to get to work.”
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, great,” she said, as she shoved open the door and walked quickly away down the sidewalk.
By the time I emerged she was out of sight. While I waited for my bagel at Sam’s, I had much to think about. The woman’s lack of surprise at encountering this Omar fellow suggested that she was in her neighborhood, but, if so, wouldn’t she have had access to shoes? Or did she own only the one pair? Also, given the circumstances, why not call out sick? This might make a bad impression, sure, but a worse one than arriving without shoes? Perhaps she worked in a cubicle, I thought, and stood a chance of not being spotted after she’d made it to her desk.
Mulling all of this over, I realized that the woman had looked slightly disheveled. Although her clothes were clean, the strands of her hair that had escaped from her loose ponytail suggested that she’d been to bed at least once since the last washing and brushing. And her inappropriate tone and detached manner – not to mention her curt rejection of someone whom it might have made sense to instead latch onto as an ally – suggested that she was still under the influence of whatever chemicals had helped her get into this fix to begin with.
I spotted her again as I left Sam’s. She was just coming out of the small grocery store two doors up, carrying a white plastic bag, still barefoot. She crossed the street and took up a cab-hailing stance on the opposite curb. I watched her disappear into a downtown-bound Yellow Cab.
I have a feeling my day will go better than hers, but of course you can never be sure.