“You want a nice pedicure?” Jimmy called to the man in the doorway, and laughed. The man smiled faintly, primly, and shook his head.
He stood there in full preppie regalia, well-groomed in a fashionably tailored white shirt, tie and dark, neatly pressed slacks. His iPhone was wrapped in a leather case, black to match his polished shoes; he carefully pulled out the earbuds and coiled them into a matching case, slipped the whole assembly into his pocket.
He stepped inside the nailshop, and one of the girls bounced up to meet him. “Hi, hi,” she greeted, and he slipped out of his sportcoat and handed it to her, “Ready for your haircut?”
The man nodded, and sat stiffly down in the lone beautician’s chair.
So help me, despite the fact that every bone in my body despises stereotyping, I dismissed him with a single word: “Yuppie,” and started to turn away. Generally speaking, yuppies are slightly less interesting than watching my fingernails grow.
Then the yuppie smiled shyly at the girl as she bustled around, draping and tucking. The way he watched her–closely, like an old, old friend–gave me pause.
This guy wasn’t just making bored chitchat with a cut-rate barber. He was listening.
She talked about her kids, the difficulties they were having in school and their efforts with math every night. He responded in all the right places. He nodded, expanded on what she said, thought a moment before making suggestions. Asked questions. Didn’t try to trump her story with one of his own.
He listened. He was really there with her.
Then she asked him about his daughter, and the faint, prim smile grew a big grin. “She’s doing just fine, she’s GROWING! Her mom’s got a new job, so I get to keep her Thursday nights, too. And we got to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. Together!”
They chatted about how you keep your kids safe when trick-or-treating, and if kids really like going to school Halloween parties instead of walking the streets in search of candy. Her boys wore Batman and Spiderman costumes, she said, and asked what the yuppie’s daughter wore for Halloween.
“She was a fairy princess,” he said and then, almost defensively, “I made her costume.”
Everyone within earshot turned and stared (how sexist is that?), and he blushed. “Well, we couldn’t find a purple fairy princess dress and anyway I learned how to sew in college. It wasn’t really that hard.”
He pulled out his iPhone and eagerly thumbed the screen. “I took pictures!” he exclaimed, holding up the phone for the girl to see, “See, this is when we were fitting the skirt, and here is the crown and the wings–the wings gave us some trouble, they wouldn’t stick to the wire–and this is my dog wearing the top. It wasn’t my night to keep her and the dog’s head was about the size of her waist, so when I needed to try it on…”
The girl laughed and he looked a bit relieved. He swiped again, and pointed for all of us. “This is what she looked like on Halloween. Cute, huh?”
We gathered around to see a tiny blonde fairy in a purple dress, starry wand raised high and a radiant smile on her face. She was gazing at the camera, about to speak, and looked perfectly, incandescently happy. It was one of those moments where nothing in the world could ever, ever go wrong and the yuppie stared along with us, saying nothing, for a long time.
The dress wasn’t bad. The yuppie stroked picture after picture across his phone, giving chapter, book and verse on sewing it.
The girl kept cutting as he talked. She gently brushed a hair off the yuppie’s cheek, and rested her hand on his arm. He touched it briefly, smiled up at her, and the conversation faltered.
He opened his mouth, seemed about to say something. But he shook his head, paid her for the haircut, and walked into the night. She stared at the closing door for a time, then went into the back.