Sometimes, I can be sharp as a razor, keen and agile and witty. If someone reaches for the last bite of pie on my plate, for example, you won't see quicker reaction times in professional boxers. Other days, though, you'd wonder how I find my way home without an ID bracelet.
So I'm standing on a corner in the Back Bay, waiting for the light to change so I can cross the street. A woman with grey hair and a friendly face steps up beside me and says hello. "How are you feeling?" she asks.
It seems a little personal for a stoplight conversation, but I go along with it. "I feel great!" I say, adding something about the sun shining, the warm winter we're having--the kind of things strangers say to one another while waiting for an impossibly long light to change.
"That's good--it's so important to get out and experience the day and talk to people--I know what it can be like, and it's tough. Good for you," she says. "Are you getting enough sleep?"
"Um, yeah," I stammer, wondering if she's mistaken me for someone else. "I'm actually a very skilled sleeper--it's one of the things I excel at," I say, looking up at the light, willing it to change so this conversation can end. But it had already gone on long enough that the pauses between inappropriate questions had metastacized into awkward silences.
"Good for you," she persists, determined to keep this thing we have going. "It can be so tough, especially when you're exhausted, kept up all night..."
"Absolutely." When I don't know what to say, I'll agree with anyone.
"Are you getting any exercise?" she asks.
"Uh huh," I say, instead of the "WTF???" that's emblazoned in neon letters, streaked across the billboard of my mind.
Not the least bit frustrated by my obvious confusion, she comes back with: "And how old is she?"
Oh. "She" being the three-month-old infant strapped to my chest, so asleep that her head is flopped over to the side, mouth ajar. In my own defense, I should say that I spend many hours each day with people who KNOW that this child is not mine, so it comes as a genuine surprise when people (quite naturally) assume that the child I'm walking around with is mine.
Anyway. The light changed. The woman and I parted ways, just as the short bus pulled up alongside me and invited me onboard. I found my seat without difficulty.