a question

While I was waiting for the J this afternoon, a man came up to me on the platform, grinning widely. It was such a big smile--jaw hung open, all teeth showing--that at first I thought he must have mistaken me for someone else. This was not the case. As a side note, the man was wearing his hair in two braids and shoes that had individual toes.* I turned away; he came around to face me.

Him: Hi. Bet you're going to Dolores Park.
Me: No.
Him: That's a shame. Bet you're going to a barbecue.
Me: No.
Him: That's a shame too. 

I said, "Ha," and took out my phone, then replayed a voicemail from a telemarketer until he started talking with the elderly woman standing next to me. (Her: "What a hoot you are! A real original. Look at those shoes." Him: "I think I'm one of the last originals there are. You like 'em?")

This got me thinking. We've been talking a lot about the city-vs.-country debate in one of my classes. (Are city dwellers alienated from each other and disconnected from the natural world? Is it possible to derive coherent meaning from a fragmentary urban landscape?) And while I've always felt most at home in urban areas, I couldn't help but recognize that my reaction to the grinner on the J fit in well with the detached-city-person archetype. 

True: he could have been a creeper. I'm pretty sure he was at least overfriendly. But as I watched him chat easily with the older woman while the J trundled down to 18th street, I wondered if I had been wrong--if he was really only an "original". In cities, we are conditioned to be cautious, self-contained, even aloof--but is it possible to be too independent? Too estranged from the all-around strangeness? "Alienated" is a strong word, but it brings up an interesting question: have we become aliens to each other? I'm all for quirkiness, for odd things, for San Francisco's peculiar eccentricities. But at what point do the things outside us become invasive? And at what point are we too quick to shut them out? 

* The toe shoes. So: friendly oddball or potential crazy? Maybe these are another piece of the puzzle. 

1 comment:

George said...

haha im procrastinating right now, and I stumbled across your blog via facebook. Genius use of the asterisk..