Monday, June 25, 2007

The Only Thing

This morning as I was walking from the train to work, a woman who looked to be a once-upon-a-soccer mom now in her mid 50s, as she passed me on my left, leaned in and said in a slightly hushed voice, "Your wallet pocket is open." I thanked her out of confusion, because thanking people is disarming nowadays, and if she were in fact a Russian spy attempting to use code words to arm a bio-weapon that I had unwittingly allowed to be implanted into my skull, disarming her seemed to be the appropriate choice. She nodded and kept walking. I reached for my wallet and understood. The pants I am wearing today [ed. - if I had a nickel for every time I started a sentence that way...] have cargo pockets in the back, and I guess the woman wanted me to be aware that the one holding my wallet was unbuttoned, lest I fall victim to an act of thievery.

I really don't want slap thoughtfulness in the face here, but it was about that time I wanted the lady to come back so that I could explain to her that, yes, my wallet pocket was open, because that's where I keep my wallet. And my wallet is where I keep my CTA card and my credit cards and various membership cards and my library card, etc. And I use that shit quite frequently. And cargo pockets are a pain in the neck to open and close without the assistance of sight. And, disappointing as it is, I can't really see my own ass all that well. And, more importantly, what would she have said had I been wearing jeans? "You have no way of sealing your wallet pocket"? Ok, so my thoughts weren't quite as sarcastic, but I've had some time to dwell on the situation and it's all very silly, but a little unsettling as well. Has it really become an accepted fact that wallet pockets should be closed?

Some expository information: My day job is in the Medical District, a few blocks from Cook County Hospital. In the two years that I have been working there, I have heard a rare report or two of crime in the couple of blocks between the train and my workplace, but it's not a dangerous place. Not always a cheerful place (it's a bunch of hospitals and treatment clinics, for chrissakes), but not dangerous. But this lady still felt concerned enough for the vulnerability of my back pocket to warn me. Which was very kind of her, and I feel a twinge of shame for ragging on the effort -- but only a twinge. Because this sort of fear of society is a crippling force and it's hurting rather than helping.

This is a big fucking city. True. Crime is inevitable. True. But if you're aware of your surroundings and aren't acting like a dumbass (which would be good advice even in a mystical crime vacuum), odds are you're going to be fine. And if you are aware of your surroundings and aren't acting like a dumbass and you still wind up the victim of a crime, odds are it was going to happen regardless. Anything above and beyond that is a lot of added stress for minimal added protection. Not to mention an entire blog's worth of implications in the Nietzschean philosophy of the creation of an enemy through the preparation for one.

(Sidebar example: This weekend I was crossing the river on Michigan Avenue and a tourist in front of me slowed down, struggling with a map. As I slid past, I brushed against her arm on the shoulder that was holding her purse. At the same time that I was turning to excuse myself, she whipped her purse to her chest, guarding it, and stared at me wide-eyed with fright. I said excuse me and she didn't move a muscle. I walked on but couldn't help but wish that I had taken her purse, if only so that her effort wouldn't have gone to such a waste.)

Fear has become a currency these days, as special studies and focus groups and interested third parties trade potential threats back and forth like so many baseball cards, being sure to keep the media in the loop so we threatened masses can protect ourselves from the latest impending doom. Meanwhile, as Giuliani cleans up New York, as politicians begin to protect us from our own ingestion of trans fats, as the Bucket Boys get kicked off Michigan Avenue to protect the ears and sanity of the Nouveau Haute in Water Tower Place, we get a step closer to utopia. And lose a bit of the grit that gives the world its flavor. And still tourists walk down Michigan Avenue taking in the false frontispiece of the city, but always a tad uneasy because that man with no teeth and greasy hair is jingling his change cup at them.

Not that there isn't a time and a place for fear -- I had been in Chicago (from small town Iowa, mind you) for all of a month when I absurdly found myself (a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, skinny white boy) alone in Englewood at ten o'clock on a Friday night. That was the one time in the city that I have been truly frightened. (I got mugged on the Green Line a few months ago and even that was more of an annoyance than anything.) And, as I was making my way back to the train and out of Englewood, I kept repeating a simple mantra: "You're supposed to be here." Because fear is more than just visible; it's almost tactile. And, while not foolproof by any means, you're much less of a target when you're not frightened. Or at least when you don't let it show.

Watching politicians, public figures, and everyday humans on a daily basis, I see a lot of fear. I see the attempt to create an antiseptic world to ease worried minds. And I see worried minds that will never be appeased. And while most of these changes are, yes, positive overall, a piece of me can't help but mourn the flavor of life that comes from living in a spectrum as opposed to a flat wash.

Yes, ma'am, my wallet pocket is open. That's where I keep my wallet.


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