(Alternatively titled: the subtle differences which separate creepy old men from classy ones.)
So I'm in line this morning jonesing for a cup of disappointing American coffee when I feel him sidle up behind me. It's less of a tangible sense of encroachment than it is a sort of psychological feeling of oppression: my personal space is being invaded.
I thought Italy had all but stripped me of my ability to sniff out, let alone take offense at, close-creeping bubble encroachers, because son of a nutcracker, once you've ridden the 66 bus from Termini to … anywhere, you're pretty well acquainted with the art of the public grope. But there I was, maternity stretch pants + husband's t-shirt + dirty old Target fleece getting aaaaaaall kinds of cozy with the lady in line in front of me because I could feel him creeping, edging, scooting closer and closer. For every scoot I scooted, he shuffled a half step closer until I was all but pinned against the chilled artisan sandwich and wilted salad case, and then…he made his move.
"Is that your Christmas present you're carrying?" he asked with a wink and a smile, gesturing to my ill-clad midsection.
I immediately relaxed. He wasn't creepy. He was just shockingly direct and old school and gesturing openly at my laughably humongous belly and somehow…that was immediately forgivable in my mind.
"Heh. Yep, she's due Christmas day."
He smiled indulgently and announced, "that'll never happen."
I assured him that I sure hoped not, to which he responded by flinging one arm around my shoulders and guffawing heartily: "As long as she comes by the end of the year. The tax write off and all…though as a father of three, I can tell you it won't make a dent!"
He pealed off in a gale of hearty laughter, and even though 3 minutes earlier I had been aware of his creeping encroachment on my public domain, the fact that he now had his arm around me and was cracking wise on my due date was somehow not only inoffensive, but comforting.
He gave my shoulders a quick squeeze before looking me over with an appraising eye: "You don't look like you've gained much. You probably have, but you look good. You're doing a good job."
He made a few more positive observations about my old school taste in coffee (simple drip, room for cream) and we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving before I was on my way. But I tell you, I floated out the door of that strip mall Starbucks. Because I didn't look like I'd gained much…I probably had, but I looked good.
Thanks, Clarence. You had no idea how badly I needed to hear that this morning, or how your words would ring in my ears as I tipped the scales at my appointment later in the afternoon. Yeah, yeah, that number is appalling ... but I'm doing a good job. My creepy-turned-charming-Christmas-angel-disguised-as-old-guy-in-Starbucks told me so.