Everyone Is As Bright As A Button

, , , , , , | Hopeless | March 14, 2018

(I’ve had the same type of purse since high school: a canvas shoulder bag completely covered in about forty or fifty picture buttons. I switch them out every six months or so. I like them because they’re bright and colorful and they start conversations. At least once a week someone on the train will comment on a button featuring a book or a movie they recognize, and I’ve even had complete strangers give me buttons to add to my collection. Two encounters really stand out, though. The first is on a bus. Sitting across the aisle from me is a mom with two toddlers who will not settle down, no matter what she pulls out to distract them. One of them finally manages to squirm away, hops off the seat, and then stops dead when she sees my bag covered in shiny, colorful buttons.)

Toddler: “Your bag’s pretty! What’s that one?”

Me: “Oh, that one is a picture of the pyramids, because someday I want to go to Egypt.”

Toddler: “Cool! What’s that one?”

Me: “That one’s a picture of a story I like, about a girl who gets turned into an owl.”

(After a minute, her brother wanders over to join her looking at my bag, and they spend the next twenty minutes calmly asking me about each and every button on my bag. Almost as soon as they finish with the last button, their mom announces they are getting off at the next stop, and the two kids run back to their mom. As they are getting off, she mouths a fervent, “Thank you!” at me. I have to smile. The second encounter takes place at a train station at nearly 1:00 am, when I am heading back from a friend’s. I’m a very short woman, and I am the only one on the platform, so I am a little nervous when a man comes onto the platform and heads right to me, not least because he has facial tattoos tying him to a particularly brutal and violent local gang. I am trying to discreetly reach for my pepper spray when…)

Man: “Dude, your purse is awesome. I saw the buttons from clear across the station. Where are they from?”

Me: “Oh! They’re, uh, they’re from all over. Some I found, some I bought, and some I made.”

Man: “This one, is this from Amsterdam?”

Me: “No, Venice. I’ve never been, but one of my friends brought it back for me.”

Man: “Makes sense. I figured it had to be either Venice or Amsterdam, with the canals. Either way, it’s pretty cool. I love the idea of a city built on the water.”

(We chat a few more minutes, and then he asks…)

Man: “By the way, you looked kind of nervous when I walked up. Was it the tattoos?”

Me: “I, uh… Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

Man: “I figured it was. Joining that gang was the worst mistake I ever made. I managed to quit and I’ve been working at [Local Factory] for the last eight months. First, I’m saving up to get the tats lasered off, then I’m saving up to visit Europe. I want to see Delft and Amsterdam and Venice… and if I like it, then I’m saving up to move there!”

Me: “In that case, here. Until you can get there yourself!”

(He grinned, and pinned the Venice button to his jacket. Unfortunately, my train pulled up, so we didn’t get to talk anymore, but it was a conversation that stuck with me. I’m usually pretty shy, and I’ve had a couple of friends comment that it’s odd that I carry a purse that attracts so much attention, but I like seeing people smile when they recognize something on one of my buttons.)

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