The Hazards of Scarves

When I first moved to Portland, I took the streetcar to work as often as I could. I got on the streetcar at the beginning of the line in NW, and got off towards the end in SoWa. I usually did the best I could to get a single seat, or get a seat near the window because I was likely to be on a longer ride then most. The glacial pace of the streetcar gave me enough time to add a few rows to whatever scarf or crochet piece I was working on.

Having a ball of yarn and a hook in your hand on public transportation will always solicit conversation. Such was the case one day as I sat by the window and worked on a scarf. An older man with unwashed clothes and unkempt hair sat beside me. I held my breath. He looked down at the crochet I was working on. It was obviously a scarf.

“What are you making?”

“A scarf.”

He thought about this for a moment. “I have a scarf at home, you can throw that one away.” And he laughed. I’m sure I summoned a polite smile.

I had a long way to go before my stop. He told me about how he used to be a carpenter, and he used to make window frames, or something, and you can tell how well a building is constructed just by looking at their window frames, and you shouldn’t bother staying in a hotel if it didn’t have good windows.

I did a lot of smiling and nodding. I continued to work on my scarf. I felt the sympathy and relief of the other passengers around me. I was the single woman stuck talking to the crazy guy.

He eventually departed and I was sitting alone again. I thought about what he said about my scarf. I should throw it way. Because he had one at home. I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it. It’s been years now, and whenever I am baffled by humans, which is a frequent occurrence, my thoughts float back to this memory. I understand he was trying to be funny. I understand he probably didn’t have a firm grasp on social etiquette. I understand he wanted to imply some familiarity or connection with a single woman on the streetcar. Any tiny, tenuous connection, even fleeting and impersonal, was something.

What an odd thing to say.

Story contributed by Heather, who blogs at

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One Response to The Hazards of Scarves

  1. The knitting encourages that kind of conversation, but we have also found the having something to do makes those interactions less irksome.

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