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The crossing guard and the dawdler


Zebra crossingSome people laughed when I said I'd become a school crossing supervisor. They saw the big orange 'lollipop' Stop sign. They saw the daggy uniform. They saw the bizarre image of a bloke stopping peak-hour traffic with not much more than a whistle and a stick.

I'd see a father waiting at a corner 50m from the school, lovingly watching his young daughter make her way to the crossing.

I'd see a big sister holding a little sister's hand, all the way up the street, across the road and into the schoolyard.

I'd see mums and dads kissing their children goodbye at the school gate or waving silently from behind windscreens.

I'd see a boy dawdling, picking up sticks and stones, turning them over, putting them in his pocket. He was often the last to cross, arriving as the school's public address system played 'hurry up' music at 8:55am — usually 1980s rock anthems — but he was in no hurry.

And nor was I, standing there watching the world go by.

I took the job almost on a whim, in the mid-life midst of wondering where my future lay. Observing the cars and vans and utes and trucks driving past I tried to imagine being, say, a plasterer or a gardener or a police officer. A bricklayer, a paramedic, an antenna installer. A green grocer, a bus driver, a truckie. A road builder, a communications consultant, a driving instructor, a district nurse, a plumber, a window cleaner.

But with each glimpse of each vehicle I'd think No, No and No again. And as far as I could tell there were no particular vehicles — save perhaps the occasional beat-up sedan — that suggested a writer or a daydreamer.

Eventually I realised the job I wanted was probably the job I was doing there and then, that perhaps my future was right there in my hands, holding that Stop sign and being part of the rhythm of the neighbourhood, being — in a very small way — a guardian, a witness, a go-between, a shepherd.

But it couldn't last. The hourly rate was good but it's not a full-time gig. Ten 45-minute shifts a week wasn't going to pay many bills.

So after two months I packed my uniform, sign and flags under the stairs and headed into an office, into the land of the lanyard, into the chiming elevator world of flexitime, ID cards, logins, and security passes.

In between keying in data I think about the crossing. I think about the drivers: most were patient and polite, some not-so. Some nodded hello, some kept talking on their mobile phones. I think about the parents: some were in a hurry, some had time. Most said hello, some kept talking on their mobile phones.

And I think about the children: friendly, cheerful, innocent, grateful. Some chatty, some moody and a few, yes, talking on their mobile phones. All of them growing up guided by their parents and their teachers and, even, a man in a daggy uniform with a Stop sign.

And then it's back to processing data. This job's only for a few months, so maybe all is not lost. Maybe, somehow, I could work a crossing again. Standing watching the world go by, possibly passing me by.

Will the loving father still be watching his daughter from the corner or will she be all on her own? Will the dawdler still be collecting sticks and stones or will the footpath treasures no longer catch his eye? Will the sisters still be holding hands all the way into the schoolyard?

And as I stop the various vehicles will I stop the occasional beat-up sedan, and nod knowingly at the driver as I blow my whistle and shepherd the children across the busy road? 


Vin MaskellVin Maskell has written for The Age, The Big Issue, and Best Australian Essays (2008). He published a collection of his short narratives, Jacaranda Avenue, in 2003.

Topic tags: Vin Maskell, school, education



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Existing comments

ah, that's lovely."a guardian, a witness, a go-between, a shepherd..." Sharp eye for what seems little but is not little at all. Well played, Vin.

Brian Doyle | 01 February 2012  

A beautiful, wistful sharing of life. Thank you! It's the lollypop ladies and blokes who provide a desperately needed balance against stalled lanes of primary school commuters and the irate, stressed mums driving oversized tanks. Our local lollypop lady, the veteran Anne, seems to knows the names of almost every child who attends our children's primary school.

Acts of grace and service oxygenate our lives.

Barry G | 01 February 2012  

Insightful reflection Vin.

What a topsy-turvey world we live in, when bankers get bonuses of millions of dollars and the "shepherd" can't afford to live on his pay packet.

Pam | 01 February 2012  

Lovely, Vin. Thank you.

I look forward to your contributions as much as I look forward to Brian Doyle's.

ErikH | 01 February 2012  

Lovely. Thanks.

Theo Verbeek | 02 February 2012  

How come the jobs we enjoy are never the ones that pay the bills?! I still have very fond memories of my primary school lollipop lady. Mrs O'Brien. Her cheerful smile every morning set the tone for the day.

Aimee | 06 February 2012  

Thank you, Vin Maskell, for a beautiful essay. This is Garrison Keilor of Flannery O'Connor or Martin Flanagan (The Age) territory. We need much more of it.

Caroline Jones | 07 February 2012  

Lovely...though please don't just assume that writer = beat up old sedan and that because a person drives a 'nice' car (or lives in a 'nice' house and works a 'nice' job) that it means there's no writer lurking underneath. For surely that's the greatest injustice...passing judgement without evidence.


Ann | 17 February 2012  

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