If you passed Laurie Garrett on the sidewalk, would you look twice?
She’s not tall. Her hair is a warm, curly brown. Her features are small and even and, when she smiles, she’s pretty. Carrying a bit of excess weight around the midsection, common among women of her age who spend most of their time indoors or outside in their own yard, in terms of type she’d qualify as a pleasant looking matron – perhaps given to knitting or reading, possibly employed part time as a cashier in a craft store.
Laurie Garrett isn’t a cashier in a craft store.
In 1996, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for her series of works published in Newsday, chronicling the Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire. Laurie Garrett wrote “The Coming Plague”, predicting the viral scourges we’ve endured since the publication of its first edition in 1994. During the coronavirus pandemic she has been sought out, to both remind of her visionary predictions and foresee outcomes, across all media.
Day was, people did fit into type. On or about the 1950s, you could tell most everything about anyone, just by looking at them. A woman in a pillbox hat and a box knit suit, carrying a pocketbook in her gloved hands, walking on a downtown sidewalk in a pair of pointed pumps was probably a housewife out shopping. If she were unmarried, and respected, she would not be walking alone – shopping or not. Not downtown.
By way of contrast, a man in a fedora and brown single breasted suit, narrow tie, white shirt, and dark Oxfords walking on the same sidewalk would be on his way back to work after lunch at a downtown cafe restaurant. He’d likely own his business, perhaps as a merchant or insurance salesman, and keep regular hours from about 8 am til 5pm. He could be single, or married, but that status would matter little to his perceived image.
Point is, unless you were either of these characters, you’d likely not spend any time on that sidewalk.
If a man, you’d be at the shop, in overalls, grease on your forearms, sleeves rolled to the elbow, oil on your hands, shoes drip stained from it, standing at your station running your semi-automatic until the horn blew for lunch. After 3 or 4pm, you might be seen heading up a side street to the bus stop, tin lunchbox in hand or, if you earned enough, driving home in your Buick sedan.
A woman, working in the same shop, would be there part time. Hair wrapped to cover pincurls, flat shoes, shirtwaist cotton dress, homemade apron, hands slathered with Pro-Tec to make washing the oil off easier at home, she’d be working because there wasn’t enough money coming in from her husband – or, her father, if she lived at home.
These would be they whom you would have been. There would have been nobody else – because you would have been white. If you had not been white, you would never have been on that sidewalk or in that shop. Your absence would have been its own type.
Now, Laurie Garrett can stay at home and write and publish her wisened, warning prophecies, then make dinner in the small kitchen, spend her evenings doing whatever she pleases, and take her interviews for a fee.
Society has evolved. Type is becoming self-deleting. Now, any character can be summoned, at any given, arbitrary moment, to fulfill any fancy, or not. A perfectly presented person, dressed as a man but wishing he were a woman, could walk the sidewalk of the day, return to his or her dwelling, take a poison, and be done, and not a single expectation would be realized.
And, Laurie Garrett might have already written the story.
© 10/23/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Sharing permitted by posting the blog link, exclusively; no reproduction by copying in whole or part, including translation, permitted without written permission of the author. Thank you.