I remember a time when I had no shoes, and I was depressed until I came across a man with no feet. Later, on a public bus, I saw another man with no front teeth who offered me wine out of a box. I went home and cancelled my cable. There’s no way that a television can produce the kind of stupefying images I’ve seen just on public transit. Throughout most of my life, I have been what some would call a people-watcher for a number of reasons.
Typically, I find people repulsive. Though I’m inclined to keep to myself, I manage to remain alert in public out of sheer necessity. I remember the rush of deciding a course of action for the seven-foot tall, bleary eyed drunk whispering “I’ll kill you, bitch. I’ll kill you,” into the back of my skull on the midnight shuttle in downtown Seattle, WA and imagine the same situation with iPod speakers crammed against my cochlea. Not the same thing.
I stopped trying to understand people years ago. Digging though everyday artifice was hell on my blood pressure, anyway. It’s going to take a very long time to really stop holding people at a distance, to stop being aloof and treat every experience with the same even-handed disdain. Awareness goes far, but to know people rather than watch them is a much richer experience. A deferential smile has consistently earned free bus transfers, and an open ear offered outside a co-op granted me access to the little-known history of Savannah’s slave population and the much-disputed origins of a Second African Baptist Church. I’ve also been stared down by neo-nazis and quizzed on obscure legal minutia by ex-cons.
Just as nature brings us sunshowers, penicillin and perfect, just off the vine raspberries, there’s also the matter of locusts and botulism and the black death. If there’s a trick to distinguish a potential friend from a potential assault, I don’t know it. I only know to be open, never fake interest, and just don’t act a fool.
Sometimes though, too much is too much. When I feel humanity crashing down on me, I’m usually wound up and bent out of shape over something on into the night. From an early age, I’ve had trouble sleeping, and what’s the harm, when there’s something like coasting my big, ugly bicycle all across Savannah after three in the morning in its eerily dead-stillness. Each street and alleyway at this hour is its own dark, secret corner of the world for a few hours, where I’m the only soul awake and not up to trouble and I can, for once, get a little much-needed relief from the rest of you.