Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eyes on the Sidewalk

Community is what happens with your eyes when you walk down a busy sidewalk.  It may seem appropriate to look at your fellow pedestrians, but this can lead to brief, intense eye contact that may or may not have a life-threatening edge to it.  Looking is not recommended for all neighborhoods.  Most of the time you will find the bland expression of a body in transit.  Other times you can find some sublime little in-roads into the lives of total strangers.  

The supercilious, the doomed, the cantankerous, the lost, the famous pretending to be nonchalant. I can cast expert side glances and take in the full amazingness of a man in a lavender linen suit with matching hat without fully acknowledging that the man exists. The city can be downright hallucinatory without the occasional confrontation of eyes.  It is good to be warned off by the occasional bloodshot set or to be staunched entirely by people who are weeping openly on the city's sidewalks. 

Searching stranger's faces is an odd preoccupation. It may be a way of humanizing the otherwise anonymous millions I live beside.  In some small towns, eye contact is not only expected on Main Street, but should normally be attended by a greeting: a smile or a wave hello.  Here, the eyes are almost too much.  Thankfully when you are in public in New York, you are also alone.  There are just too many people to keep track of and the sidewalks are so regularly scandalized by freak-outs that people maintain the general law of live and let live, so long as their space (or sense of fashion decency) is not invaded.  

More frightening than the bloodshot daggers, which normally speak of a day of unending frustration, are the eyes that void their neutrality and suddenly want to be friends.  Every now and then an eager little glance is shot back from the pedestrian crowd, happy in a schizophrenic kind of way, intense and entreating, "Friend?" A total stranger? Either a small town soul bursting with naivete or the more likely predator scouring the streets for the small town soul to prey upon.  Whenever I come across one of those, I normally walk on so much the faster and ensure my expression has switched to neutral.  I'll scan the sidewalk for gum or the skyscrapers for cracks and plow ahead.    

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