I am flying back from Toronto and have been contemplating our use of signals, symbols, signs and space, and how these act together musically, merge, emerge, collapse, and cascade into odd sculptures we often assume we understand, but are both as crazy and as patterned as the view in a kaleidoscope. [The inventor of the Kaleidoscope coined the name from the Greek in 1817, literally– “observer of beautiful forms”, may we all be kaleidoscopic.] Of course, we share a language with the Canadians, as well as most of a hemisphere and lots of aspects of general and high couture. But I began to doubt the depth and substance of this Northern Mitwellt when my faith in the natural order of things was shaken by an ungodly delay at customs after recurrent experiences of Canadians ramming their bodies into mine as I tried to traverse Toronto city streets. The same thing happened in the quaint tourist town of Niagara on the Lake, Gateway to the Falls. [I wanted to write something here about Viagra on the Lake, Gateway to the expletive deleted, but there is no reasonable occasion for it, save the love of aborted limericks.] This has happened to me before in American cities, being forced to deal with these human battering-rams, and wondered why it was, that one (that one being me) could walk down crowded streets in Manhattan, Paris, Cairo, and Mexico City and never seriously collide with anyone or anything, except, in the case of Manhattan, where you are likely to collide with the opportunity to buy pretzel Rollex on the cheap. You certainly can’t say it’s because NYC is the more genteel locale.
I was offered an explanation by a true anthophile [in biology this term is also used as an adjectival modifier for various parasites, but here I refer to that meek breed that Jesus spilled the beans about – may they indeed inherit the earth, which is the power-lust behind their dirty little conspiracy of masochistic sabotage of rational hedonism] that it all had to do with the Canadian demographic. Canada’s population is hopelessly doomed to bitter conflict due to division into groups with conflicting loyalties – namely Anglophiles, Francophiles, Freethinkers that despise one or both of these groups, and are therefore aligned with the Americans, and finally, sundry indigenous peoples and folks that even Canadians can recognize as foreign. [East Indians are not foreign, definitively Anglophile in orientation. You can’t trust Africans, they are as likely to be Frankophile or pro-American as anything else]
Here’s my anthrophilic friend’s atomic theory of homoculi in motion on sidewalks: Anglophiles insist on the affectation of walking on the left because they know the British drive on the left, and the Frankophiles stick to the right (oddly enough like their decedents on the Isles of Greater Normandy). Freethinkers (really pro-American at heart) are dedicated to doing the opposite of what they think some despised group is doing. All of this takes a certain amount of mind reading and influence at a distance, [what we used to call magic until we found that electrons really do it].
Canadians for the full integration, as rare as ghost neutrinos, hold the middle ground, while the First Nations people are exercising any ancestrally rite (read right) of passage urged on by the spiritus loci, making them sort of like quantum jumpers, but somewhat less predictable. But, I protested, to my anthrophilic buddy, I have never had any body bang into me point blank in any of the international cities I mentioned, or on any of the few Indian towns I’ve been in here in the states, where, I have to admit, I have never seen a crowded sidewalk. Most folk just amble in the road in harmony with the weaving winds and with the same Honda pickups, RAV 4s, and Chevy trucks folks amble around in harmony with in Appalachia, only country ‘n western style.
Now, the folks who were running into me on this Canadian holiday of mine (I was not running into them, of course) were usually not built for intimidation. Some were panty- waist-sized metrosexuals, others were twenty-something bulimics imagining that they were laid off until the next fashion season. Others had a good solid thud to them, and some had a hollow sound that made me wonder if they had any innards at all. I know its unmannerly at best to speculate on another person’s innards, but when a thick side of Canadian comes ramming into you belly-first, your own belly is astonishingly orca-like in sonar capacity (however many inches of sufficiency or deficiency of orca girth). Instantaneously, you know more than you want to know about this person, such as how many hours had transpired since lunch when they decided to take you on, and you know with such exactitude that on the busiest sidewalks there is no need to carry a watch, or for the truly discerning, no need to buy the morning paper. [Read not the Times, Read the Tines. Rough paraphrase of Thoreau’s “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities”.]
I have read in no less an authority than the NYT that the way to avoid such sidewalk communions is to never make eye-contact with the approaching obstacle, since these are no mindless ice-bergs to be steered around or plowed through, but thinking, reacting, spontaneous minds, that once aware of a similarly endowed consciousness in their proximity, cannot help but to engage in some kind of battle for dominion for the space defining you as someone who is not them. The most benign battle is that to be the one who most deftly avoids collision, while not yielding to the adversary a mote of recognition (although bashing the other fellow’s head in with your tightly rolled NYT or Guardian is another ploy).
If all this seems trivial, dear reader, please recall that it was Sophocles himself who first took up the feather or stylus and gave us that grave and fateful tale of Oedipus meeting a man on the road to Thebes (or from Thebes from the other guy’s perspective). In those days, the road was no broader than a city sidewalk, and sort of a foot pounded clot of mud with a moat of muddy slush on each side, which in this early phase of the Carbon Era, contained along with any and everything else, the solid CO2 left over by horsepower, amply reeking of methane. Neither man yielded–no doubt eye contact was at fault–and the death and crowning of Kings, marriage to a queen-mom, bilateral self-enucleation, and psychoanalysis ensued. Freud himself, recalling that Jews of his father’s generation were forced to step off the planks for any approaching Gentile notable, may have had his own dog in this battle for the sidewalk.
Of course the internet teaches me more than I wanted to know. It’s being called Intermittent Explosive Disorder, or Sidewalk Rage, and at the University of Hawaii a researcher has created a Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale, with these items:
· Acting in a hostile manner
· Feeling stressed and impatient
· Walking much faster than the rest of the people
· Not yielding
· Walking on the left of a crowded passage way, when most are on the right
· Muttering at other pedestrians
· Bumping into others
· Not apologizing
· Making insulting gestures
· Hogging or blocking the passage way
· Expressing rage at drivers as well i.e. throwing objects or yelling
· Feeling engaged at other pedestrians and enjoying thoughts of violence
What this doesn’t capture are all the people who pretend that this is never a problem, that either people always yield to them (intimidators) or that they are above it all (deniers and meek ‘n mild-ers) and just couldn’t condescend to acknowledge the annoyance.
As for me, I have resorted to carrying an umbrella or walking stick lance-style in the crook of my arm. I now accept that walking in populated areas is the modern plebian version of medieval jousting. I start off with my lance in the nook of my left arm and away from any vital organ (American conventionalist that I am) ready to steer off anyone veering too much into my lane, but I stay on the alert to switch to the other arm to deal with those who imagine a sidewalk shoulder on my right or who really want to play chicken.