I pass a series of crossing guards on my way to pick up my daughter from school, each one as unique as a Crayola color. The first one up is a short, bald Russian man, about 75 years old with a thick accent. He shakes his head in disdain at anyone who will serve as a forced audience. He complains about teenagers not stopping for the red light (even if there are no cars coming) and he always has something to say about the weather and how everyone is not appropriately dressed for it. Every day he acts like he’s meeting me for the first time and when I walk away he says, “have a good day,” but it sounds like “go fuck yourself.”
The next guard is a quintessential happy, Dolly. Always with a smile from ear to ear, waving as she sees me approaching and smiling even broader when she sees me returning with my daughter. She recognizes us even if we’re in our car and makes sure to wave. On the way to school pick up, Dolly will say, “See you on the way back,” as part of our little ping-pong of polite conversation.
The third crossing guard I encounter only if I don’t take a shortcut through the parking lot. He’s stationed right on Main Street, between the post office and the town’s veteran’s memorial. He’s my favorite because he reminds me of my grandpa who died two years ago. He’s a short, perpetually tan Italian man who acts like I made his day by crossing the street and saying hello to him. He doesn’t care about the weather but makes a comment about how pretty I look. He’s one of those people who’s put on the planet to brighten your day. (He should be friends with Dolly.)
The last pair of crossing guards hangs out together, right outside the school. They’re bullies clad in the fluorescent orange vests and baseball hats. They create a diagonal walkway disrupting normal traffic and have never once smiled to anyone in the two years I’ve walked past them. They don’t say hello or goodbye and if a child waves to them, they continue staring and chatting among themselves. They seem like police officers who got demoted to crossing guards and are going to spend every day imbuing resentful angry energy.
Growing up in Staten Island, I don’t remember any crossing guards or maybe they existed but faded invisibly into the background just like other uniformed workers. It’s been interesting observing, and interacting with these crossing guards, spokes of the community, who take their jobs very seriously. How easy it is for them to smile and make a world of difference in the daily grind of our lives, like a sticker on an otherwise ordinary day.