“Oh, so sorry!” I watch a blonde in a long, fitted coat and heels fumble with a handful of books and art greeting cards, which fall to the floor in the NYC library gift shop. The sound echoes through the cavernous chambers. I am unsure whose fault this collision is, but I take the fall. Best to be gracious and take responsibility, I have learned. Good manners matter, and this could be my fault. I have been hurrying to find a gift for my granddaughter in the few minutes before my bus leaves and the aisles are filled with busy shoppers.
“It’s not a problem,” she says, but her flicker of irritation says otherwise. “I’ve got them.” I stoop to help her, but she swoops them up and holds them close. I feel her glance at my boots and puffer jacket and assess me.
My hair could use a good brushing and possibly some highlights. Any lipstick is long gone after a day of trekking around Manhattan on our annual Saturday Christmas bus tour. I chose these boots for walking. We have lit candles at St. Patrick’s for my aging mother, solved geometry puzzles at a math museum, chatted with an art student at a walkup quilt store, and done Macy*s.
But mainly we have walked up and down Manhattan’s streets and watched with wonder, like small children, at the mechanized elves and children in the holiday store fronts along 5th Avenue. We had lunch and dinner at small cafes, not elegant or memorable, just comfortable and warm. Our muscles are aching, but with the throb of a day well spent.
The elegant library is our last stop. I love the majesty of the place, its historical artwork upstairs, the collection of first edition Christmas books under glass, the huge holiday trees, the children’s book section—and the gift shop. Here I am a tourist, grabbing postcards of the library at night, a few holiday greeting cards, a biography of RBG, and a stuffed library lion (Patience or Fortitude) for my mother. Even the plastic bag with the library motif feels like a treasured souvenir.
But now in the quick minute of the fallen packages, I feel the sting of profiling. I feel the sudden judgment, as though my class, status, education level, wrinkle-care, footwear, and BMI have been assessed and found lacking. I stand in line and catch RBG’s eye on the book stand. She looks wise and knowing. She reminds me that I have done some profiling of my own. We do not know each other, this blonde woman in heels and me, but we probably have more in common than not. We love books, art cards, and the library bookstore on a late Saturday evening. And if we had more time, we’d probably discover that we have people we love dearly, people who love to receive postcards and greeting cards and stuffed animals. And maybe we’d realize that profiling has hurt us both in ways that trickle deep into our culture. Perhaps over a cup of coffee downstairs, we’d learn that in our shared sisterhood are stories to be explored and celebrated, like a library full of books or a city lit up at night. But the bus is leaving, and I must run. It is warm with happy upstaters and the excitement of Broadway plays, Christmas dancers, holiday lights, and the sharing of the day’s joys of seeing life anew.