On the Corner
BY ROBERT DOCTER –
Corners occur at crossroads.
That’s where things happen. That’s where people gather. That’s where the action is–at the crossroads of life–on the corners of our existence. That’s where you’ll find me–on the corner. I’ve got a big microphone–“a bully pulpit”–a loud voice to comment–a will to become involved. My corner is a metaphor for life.
People are on the move in the crossroads. They bring much with them. Joy jumps aboard. Pain passes slowly. Confusion careens in. Anger acts out its anxiety. Apathy disregards. But mostly, I see business-like movement–people locked into their own world, ignoring the world around them–trying desperately to be anonymous.
Choice is thrust upon them. They must decide their direction of travel. Hopefully, the direction they take corresponds to their goal. Some know exactly what turn to take at my corner. They are focused. They have a direction in mind. They know where they are going. They have a vision about the short and long range consequences of taking a turn one way instead of another.
Some are lost, unable to decide what to do. They don’t know where they are going and simply allow themselves to be carried along by others. They’re in the habit of going with the flow. They simply wander here and there, having nowhere to turn.
Some get themselves stuck in a lane of traffic that requires them to make an unplanned turn in only one way. Their inability to plan ahead forces a new direction on them. They realize their mistake too late and are required to detour before getting back on track. Others get to my corner only to discover they have come too far and need to turn around and go back– maybe needing to clean up matters of unfinished business on other corners of their lives–maybe fearful of venturing forth too far from known surroundings–maybe convinced they are heading in the wrong direction.
Many stop and talk–looking up the street and down the street–this way and that–joining me in observing what is going on around us. I listen to them–their speech articulating the accents of the world–their voices expressing the joys and sorrows, the frustrations and fantasie. I listen and participate.
Some are bigots who haven’t yet discovered that they themselves are the true object of their discontent. With hostility and hatred they spew forth their vituperative venom and then walk away alone, anger clouding their faces. Others seem out of touch with reality, appearing to have something important to say but able only to use words not designed to fit together.
Some believe they walk in perfection while holding their secrets of doubt and disbelief deep within them. They tell others they have messages from on high in relation almost to anything. Their “direct contact” always tells them exactly what to do–even when to cross the street–and if others hear different messages, they are wrong–listening on an inappropriate wave length.
Almost everyone on my corner has an opinion on just about everything. Some really don’t have any opinion; they are simply opinionated. Rampant judgmentalism runs amok. Hardly anyone seems tentative. Everyone is positive. It seems as if the corner is alive. It’s exciting and exhausting at the same time, for I, too, have something to add to the mix. I have a point of view as well. Some listen. Some disagree. Some nod in agreement. Others simply nod off.
The corner thrusts strange, unexpected events upon us. This guy wants to sell me a watch. He calls it a “watch-out.” He has a dozen or so on both arms–pulling the sleeves up to show me his wares. They have the appearance and brand names of expensive timepieces–but they don’t appear new. They are enticing–and the price is right. Then, the sleeve comes down quickly as two uniformed law enforcement officers approach, their belts jingling with multiple hanging objects, weapons at the hip, nightsticks at the ready–radio microphones poised at their collar bones. My salesman disappears. Some, I guess are charlatans; others protect me from charlatans.
The setting sun signals the approach of night and brilliant lights illuminate my corner. Signs ignored in daylight now scream for attention in flashing tubes of red and green. The feel of the corner changes as a different clientele moves in–or maybe they’re really the same. I see them differently. The stark shadows reveal the desperate physical plight of the addict–his eyes locked into hollow pockets of tight, tan flesh. Four nicely dressed couples pass us by, laughing in their evening clothes on the way to the theater. I think–their evening costs more than this man will see in a month. I walk him to the hamburger stand and buy him some food. We talk as he eats. He says he’s twenty-five. He looks forty. He needs more money. Not from me. He’s not ready to quit. I give him a phone number instead and tell him to call collect.
Life occurs on my corner–with its wide array of feelings, thoughts and behavior–ever moving, never still. Life–always worth using–only for the living–and I’m very much alive–on the corner.
You live on a corner, too.