There is surely a piece of divinity in us, something that was before the elements and owes no homage to the sun — Sir T. Browne
The air was thick and muggy, and the evening grew darker with each step as I made my way home this evening from the bar district near my crumbling and dilapidated ‘home.’ I was not, mind you, at the bars this evening but walking home from what happens to be the bar district — a district, which on this night, as most nights, was waxing with cling and clatter, and, unlike the street which led to my abode, was producing its usual amount of luminosity for its usual customers. I, on the other hand, was approaching the darkness which would climax in my entering that crumbling and dilapidated apartment I am forced to call ‘home.’ But all of this is quite irrelevant, for the night, as I mentioned, was thick and muggy, and I therefore attributed the horrendous heaving sound emitting from the figure before me to this fact. It was as if the individual were wading through the Slough of Despond, or if a cat had been caught in a mud puddle produced by the day’s earlier rains — wheezing its way to freedom, one paw at a time. We were not initially alone, this stranger and I, for I passed a nice-looking gentleman in a tie, and after I stared him down for a good three to five seconds, he finally produced a weak ‘hello,’ and I, ashamed at my conduct and rudeness, produced an even weaker ‘hi,’ though I capped it with my usual, dashing smile. And this got me to musing on how little folk say ‘hello’ to each other in passing. As I mulled this idea over in my thick skull, that horrible heaving sound once again made itself apparent, and it further occurred to me how, if he could even hear me above that sound, if he new I was behind him, he was probably more likely to guess that I would mug him and take his wallet than stop him for an evening chat. No, we were far too determined with our set courses, and thinking thus, a small but growing fear, rose within me and, yes, caused my spine to shiver. I say, I for a second, believed this person could at any instant turn around and club me to death, and in that instant, my little body and littler bank account would be depleted.
We carried on and a young couple passed us — the girl far outshining the boy in both appearance and dress. It is odd that women will be first to attempt to look presentable over the men in our culture (they need less help), and I thought that the aforementioned gentleman in the tie had more right to have that girl on his arm than the bum in shorts, but then, I too was a bum in shorts. In any case, the moment passed and the wheezing whippersnapper ahead of me took precedence once again in my thoughts. As I studied him, I recognized he walked with an obvious (and somewhat familiar) limp, dragging his right foot considerably, almost as if the leg was made of wood, and for a brief second I nearly called out a ‘Captain Cuttle’ to rouse his attention but thought it too rude and that the particular reference may not be duly noted by my audience. It was then I nonchalantly glanced to my left: a black cat caught my eye, glaring at me under the light of an apartment porch. Initially, my superstitious side took over, but seeing as how the cat remained poised in her position, I figured I was in the clear, for I am currently unaware of any ill-omen concerning when humans cross the path of black cats.
The initial scare now gone, my thoughts again directed their attention to the man ahead of me. I generally walk like most moderns — with head down, body hunched, at a quickened pace as if I must catch up with the world’s rotation or else I’ll be left walking in the same spot, pretending the globe is nothing but a large treadmill, or a hamster’s wheel and we the people forever spending our days merely trying to gain a few feet. It is a sad effect the automobile has had on our culture; my generation has taken road rage to the sidewalks, and the slow-pace of the wheezing individual ahead of me prohibited my passing, for he slithered in such a fashion so as to block the path and keep me from an easy passage through. But the whole point of this garrulous introduction is that the more I observed this individual, the more I recognized him. The familiar limp in conjunction with the heavy heaving reminded me of an earlier instance that day, when a neighbor of mine, out for his common smoke, accosted me and a friend for half a second to merely ask, ‘how you guys doing?’ to which we gave the common retort of ‘good’ and carried on — as most rude millinnials do. I have seen this particular individual a number of times and had not once said ‘hello,’ let alone, ‘how are you doing?’ So as I slowed my pace and neared my crumbling and dilapidated home, I watched as this man cut through the muddy grass, and, to keep from seeming as if I would mug him, I continued around on the concrete. I followed him at a distance, observing him to awkwardly open the door to the complex and shut it without acknowledging my presence (and why should he?). I thus entered and, for the very first time in my very short life, realized that the odd individual with the wheezing cough and strained limp I had been following was not just a resident at my apartment complex but, indeed, resided directly below what I do solemnly believe to be a crumbling and dilapidated apartment.
I have often felt, though often forgotten I was part of the problem, that our society has increasingly grown more distant from those directly surrounding us and that this unfortunate trend, due to the automobile and the internet, which have come to destroy the world, is often manifested in the walking habits of my own generation. Nevermind that no one says ‘hello’ anymore, mind that no one even attempts a smile. I work with individuals from both coasts, and they often say the locals here are so nice — always smiling and saying ‘hello.’ I would hate to see their locals. It is not merely unfortunate, it is a tragedy that a man can walk nearly two blocks behind his immediate neighbor, who makes a very distinct wheezing sound and walks with an even more noticeable limp, and not realize he is his neighbor until his skepticism becomes sight.
Now, a first-hand account is always colored by the hand penning the experience — and this hand is often dull and oblivious to its surroundings. But a more objective note, I will point attention to anyone who has walked on a university campus in the past five years. The usual complaint I hear from students is in regards to those horribly selfish smokers who apparently (I never see them) time their smokes so as to have droves of unsuspecting students follow behind them to catch their second-hand smoke. But a student rarely keels over from second-hand smoke. It is more likely that that same student will get run over by a bus or train because his head is so far smashed into his much-worshiped phone, as if looking up for a split-second was like asking them to donate a lung. It is more likely a student is felled to the ground by an irresponsible biker whose pretentiousness allows him to believe he must ride his instrument of woe right up to the desk in which he takes his test — as if he is too important to use the two legs God has given him to walk with the rest of humanity across campus.
But it is not just the bikers (or, at a specific campus, skateboarders) who believe the lanes belong to them; it is the walkers. It is the writer of this loquacious Ambler. The game of Chicken, once reserved for alcoholics in automobiles, has made its way to the conscious minds of millennials on sidewalks and nature paths, and the right-of-way is an art so obscure and outdated, that observing it nearly makes one a prig or, worse, a traditionalist. It would go a long way in our society if that once common courtesy was revived, and before we attempt a smile, the first gesture at regaining humanity in our culture and to still the devolution which plagues our race, would be to simply let one pass. Just this week I was at the zoo with a good friend, and I must note that the monkeys were less menacing than the men, and the lone island they clung to provided far fewer opportunities for peace.*
This rant may seem to suggest I was revolted that my poor neighbor with the wheezing cough and lumbering limp was taking up the sidewalk. But the point is that I noticed his taking up the sidewalk and neglected to muse on how much his soul was taking up. Even the stereotyped and misrepresented Ned Flanders is acknowledged, and though we never see his face, Wilson (W.) Wilson is a judicious neighbor, often sought for his wisdom and guidance. But we (I) have fallen so far from acknowledgement of our fellow humans, that we feel closer the further away we are, and as our proximity from each other dwindles, so our suspicion of getting mugged increases.
*It should be noted, the ducks which invaded their territory did cause no little consternation.