On a beautiful Saturday afternoon on Lexington Avenue I was crossing the street when I noticed a small woman with frightening orange hair. She stood out in the crowd because her gyrating mane was bright white at the roots and thinning dramatically and, since my hair is thinning, I notice this in other women. As if the color wasn't attention-getting enough, her hair was swishing rapidly back and forth, right, left, right left – like a colorful metronome.
Covering her tiny frame was one of those one-shouldered Flashdance sweatshirts. Now right behind her, I see it: right there on her right shoulder is a good-sized butterfly tattoo that had seen better days. The woman and the butterfly were both wrinkled and mottled. I’m caught between fascination and horror as I nearly run her down as I take in her skinny-legged jeans and little ballet slippers. By now, we’re practically in step as we get to the curb. I’m going to the left; she to the right. That’s when I saw it. The motion of her wild fire engine pageboy was directed by the cane that was keeping her upright.
So much was going on here that I came to a sudden stop, letting her cross my path without any pretense at not staring at her. I watched as she negotiated her turn, then carefully stepped off the curb toward downtown and slowly began making her way across 86th Street.
Why was I so shocked at this version of growing old?
I chided myself as I watched her disappear into the crowd and, instead of wondering why she held on to a style that probably worked really well for her decades earlier I made up a life for her: She was a chorus girl in the sixties and seventies. I’d probably seen her in A Chorus Line. When she retired she taught some of the legion of young dancers who flood New York City every year until the injury that made the cane necessary. She made one or two of her “girls” stars. Now, always a New Yorker, she’s retired and living in a small apartment surrounded by the memorabilia of a life well lived. And she’s quite happy with her look, thank you very much.
Lyn May is WWN's webmaster and editor.