After six years of shepherding people (and children) across roads, a crossing guard reflects on his “little platoons .”
Fellow Puccini-lovers will recall the passage in Act IV of La Boheme where the philosopher Colline–desperate to raise money for the dying Mimi’s medical care–takes leave of his trusty overcoat, which in sorrow he must consign to the pawnbroker. A similar song of farewell involuntarily springs to my lips as I abandon the vocation of school crossing guard, which has been mine since 2016.
Already I have addressed TAC readers twice (here and here) on the splendors and distresses of this vocation. Fearing appearing like the fifth-rate actor who was moved by the audience’s cries for “Encore!” to perform again, I am afraid. Encore!” was subsequently beaten to a pulp by an audience member, who said: “Encore!
Encore!” saw his ego smashed by the audience member who shouted: “Encore!”
I would like to have the opportunity to declare, in my best misery-memoir fashion, that six years spent at the crosswalk was a nightmare of sadistic schoolteachers, and my own pervasive victim-hood. To avoid disappointing the remaining believers in Angela’s Ashes ,, I have to say that the six years of my experience were not like this. I enjoyed almost every moment of my six years with the public. It was a privilege to have these interactions, especially those that were children, as well as keeping them safe and secure. This also allowed me to fulfill my larger social responsibility to nurture the “little platoons”, of which Burke spoke.
I will miss the children. The young man who welcomed me with his unforgettable “Hello Lollipop Dude” greetings, but many others, will be missed.
A substantial number of parents are likely to be unmissable. In general they were a greater disciplinary issue than the children. They were often seen chatting to uninvited audiences, wearing headphones or stabbling cellphones with manicured hands, while not being aware of the NASCAR-style internal-combustion engines whizzing by them. Stove’s Fifth Law: A mother who leaves her children with the simple words, “Love you to death and back”, has likely landed permanent residency in Rousseauist amusement park. )
Nor will I miss such sartorial horrors as the one of which a February 2017 diary entry reminds me. On that occasion I reported learning that multicolored Bo Derek hair-braids from the early Thatcher epoch had come to be considered an entirely legitimate fashion statement by at least one boy. Yet, rain is inevitable in every Bo-Derek-haunted existence. This diary entry also records the location of a car that had a bumper sticker stating the driver’s affiliation to —a Jacobite Memorial Group .. It is hoped that the members of this group will not consume as much alcohol later in life like Bonnie Prince Charlie.
I likewise make relieved adieux to those pencil-necked Green-voting dads who sport T-shirts assuring the beholder “This is a feminist,” and who even look like the Greens’ egregiously vexillophobic parliamentary leader, Adam Bandt. One reason I seemed to get on particularly well with certain kids was the sheer novelty to those kids of a firm, resonant baritone voice (my own) giving unambiguous commands apropos the traffic. Greenie dads don’t only refuse to give orders, they also cultivate vocal qurulousness that evokes Jerry Seinfeld. A dispiritingly high proportion of Greenie dads were cyclists, presumably convinced that any crossing guard’s attempt to direct traffic constituted “fascism.”
More comfortingly, I think of the family from, of all places, the Canary Islands. I was handed a bag containing Easter eggs by the youngest member of the family before the last Easter in Melbourne. The note included the following: “Thanks very much for our crossing supervisor’s kindness and keeping us safe throughout the term .”
Que Dios te bendiga.”
I think of the tiny schoolgirl (perhaps six years old) who, on my last day of the 2021 summer term, trilled “Merry Christmas, thank you for keeping us safe.” Whereupon she insisted on handing me a gift-wrapped Yuletide package.
I think of the optimistic French mother who, waiting to traverse one of Melbourne’s noisiest and most charmless suburban arterial roads, assured her young son that “C’est comme les Champs-Elysees!” (Shades of a French diplomat, stuck during the 1930s in Iron Guard-dominated Romania. World-weary even by the standards of his nation and metier, he told the historian Sir Charles Petrie: “Bucharest has been called the Paris of the East, but nobody, thank God, has ever called Paris the Bucharest of the West.”)
During July, I am scheduled to begin an especially demanding full-time job as media assistant to Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Center. This employer has given me a lot of faith and I’ll do my best to prove it. A part of me will always be nostalgic for those miserably cloudy winter mornings when I kept my crosswalk vigils and braved the elements wearing that bright yellow uniform, which made me appear like an oddly mobile banana.
Next time you pass a school crossing guard give him a colllegial “Ave vale ” in my name. Or, to adapt Jimmy Buffett’s great aphorism about the non-ringing phone: “If the whistle don’t toot, you’ll know it’s me.”
R.J. Stove has been a contributing editor at TAC since 2004.