Have a nice trip. See ya next fall.

The first thing I thought as I fell was I’m going to tear my pants.

I knew I was going down. No way to stop it. No time for anything graceful. Just minimize the damage. Oh, shit. My phone.

And then I heard myself say it, casually, calmly—”oh shit”—as I landed on my right knee (There’s the tear.) and my left hand, scuffing the palm. The right hand swung out and landed somewhat more lightly, just to steady me and stop me from rolling forward, the corner of my iPhone scratching hard against the ground. (Its just the case. It’s just the case.) And my gym bag pivoted around my body on the strap across my chest and slammed down on the sidewalk behind me. I heard the combination lock, in an outside mesh pocket, rattle against the concrete.

The high school kid in front of me, on is way to school, looked terrified and suddenly wide awake. My headphones were still in my ears, but I heard the panic in his voice: “Oh, god. Are you all right?”

I stood up. His reaction seemed a little dramatic. I only fell. Was I bleeding? Oh, man—is he seeing something I’m not seeing?

I turned back to see what tripped me. Some plastic straps sat there a couple of yards away, probably the remnants of some stacks of the shitty South Philly Review. I must have gotten one foot in a loop as the other stepped on the other end. That’s South Philly: The garbage swirls like a cyclone, as Ani DiFranco once sang. Stupid, selfish, littering neighbors.

I checked my left hand. My palm looked cheese-gratered, but there was no blood. Just raised flakes of skin like scales on a half-scaled fish.

“Are you all right?” he asked again.

The phone was fine, too. Just some scraping on the corner of the case. The NPR News app I was loading right before I fell—I shouldn’t have been looking down at my stupid phone. Uh! So dumb!—kicked in with the WHYY pre-roll support message: “This is Terry Gross. I know you’d like to listen to WHYY online, but before you do…”

I didn’t want to lend any further gravity to the situation by taking my headphones out of my ears, so I just spoke up over Terry.

“Yeah I’m fine,” I said.

I was touched by the kid’s concern. What if I had been hurt. He was the one person in a position to do something about it.

“I’m fine,” I said again. “Thank you.”

Poor kid. He didn’t wake up thinking he’d have to help some old guy off the sidewalk.

I walked off at a normal pace. Nothing to see here. I became aware of other people around me.

I’m not usually the type to get overly embarrassed about accidents like these. I don’t pretend they didn’t happen, but I don’t dwell on it, either. You can turn a light misstep into a little jog to the corner, but a full sidewalk body slam? There’s no hiding it, so why bother? I happens to everyone.

Usually I find some comfort in imaging friends of mine doing something similar. What would so-and-so do? It surprises me who I think of. I suppose it’s because I somehow think of them deep down as the most poised and composed of my friends.

I shouldn’t have been playing with my phone. I shouldn’t have been going to the gym: I woke up feeling ill, congested, sneezy. My head was clouded, clumsy, and I wasn’t 100% awake yet. But those seemed like excuses to me at home. I’m not talking myself out of going to the gym again.

I rounded the corner before I stopped to check anything else. I examined my knee for a good 15 seconds. Miraculously I did not tear anything. Not even a mark.

Now that I’m on my way, I’m not turning back. 


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the untallied hours

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