One of the many perks of my freelance job is that I’m not normally compelled to take public transit at rush hour. The five-o’clock bell usually finds me puttering about at home, responding to a few last-minute e-mails and starting a pot of rice on the stove. But when my kid asks for my moral support at a choral audition, I’m there. Which is why, this past Friday at five, I was elbow-to-elbow with a whole lot of other subway riders.
Anyone who takes Toronto’s silver bullet knows about the newspapers. They’re free, people grab them at the stations because they provide a light distraction through the subway tunnels, but they’re often abandoned on the trains. Usually they’re tucked neatly beside a seat or left folded on a window ledge. This past Friday, a newspaper sheet was spread open on the floor of the train, continually trampled by the boots of dozens of passengers. A potential hazard for someone not so steady on her feet. I once knew a lady with thrombosis whose cascade of triple amputations (both legs and an arm) were initially set off by injuries sustained just from skidding on a gum wrapper. Papers on floors make me think of her. As the train pulled into my transfer station, I leaned over to scoop up the paper.
An unexpected reaction to my simple deed came from the middle-aged businesswoman who’d been sitting on the seat beside me. “Aren’t you the girl,” she remarked companionably as she saw me pick up the paper. She was smiling, and I responded politely, but the encounter left me to wonder: What does that mean? Is it the feminized version of that affectionate slinger “You the man”? I Googled this odd little catchphrase and came up with the title of an old folk song. And although I ended up learning quite a bit about the tragic life of sixties American folk singer Tim Buckley, cut down before his time, I don’t think that’s quite what Ms. Subway Commuter was referring to.
I’ve decided “Aren’t you the girl” is something akin to praise. And I want to spread it. ’Cause I know you’re all out there doing small deeds. So to you, the reader: Aren’t you the girl. Yes, you. You’re so totally the girl. Good for you!
Unless you’re male. In that case, you still the man.