A Walk in the Park

Dear Dr. Skrade,

I'm sorry I missed your class tonight.

I was touring the Kingdom, and lost track of the time and day.

I saw the Apocalypse, however. It wasn't on sixteen millimeter, and it didn't come with an F.B.I. warning. It followed a mud-strewn track that ran west down Main Street, turned south around 17th, ran a ragged loop around Children's Hospital, lost and found itself several times in the slums below I-70, and wound back along Livingston and College. You could hear Marlon Brando's deathbed whisper echoing through the gutters of "Sin City" (as Columbus, Ohio was recently called by Dan Rather on Inside Edition.)

It's amazing how tightly drawn are the lines. East Main Street, east of the railroad tracks, runs right through the heart of beautiful Bexley, Ohio. Walk west of the tracks and you're in the disorganized hell that constitutes the city's true "moral majority." Not fifty feet past those tracks and I was approached by a shivering little dear who offered to "keep me warm." Another ten and I saw her pimp lounging in a doorway. I lost count after a while, but a two hour trek saw at least ten prostitutes, five pimps, fifteen drug-pushers, and a variety of lower lifeforms. I'm sure all those numbers are undershot, because I didn't count any of the women with children or lingering outside churches. On the return trip, I saw the same explicit demarcation drawn by the railroad. I'd almost forgotten what the light looked like, but once back on familiar turf I almost wondered how much of the darkness had been real. Almost. As you and I both know, it was all real.

After first crossing into the darkness, I was nearly forty-five minutes in remembering what it was like. The darkness. The tricks and postures that would see you through it alive. A brief handbook for the novice stalker:

  • Always be aware of who or what is behind you, but never look. If you look you advertise your nervousness, and are dead. Use peripheral vision when passing store windows to check the reflection. Use your ears to gauge type and number of footsteps. Keep track of shadows and light sources; whenever you pass a street light, watch what shadows are thrown before you. (Car headlights are also excellent at revealing unexpected silhouettes looming near.)
  • Keep your eyes targeted on the ground before you. You can look at whatever you want to, but use secondary sources (as above.) Don't turn towards shop windows, neon signs, and certainly don't meet people's eyes unless you feel confident to follow through with whatever signal they think you are giving them. Turning to glance into dark alleyways and doorways isn't quite so bad, as long as you don't stop to gawk at whatever you might see.
  • Don't carry any cash, or if you do keep it in a boot or hidden pocket. That way you can't be robbed, and you'll feel much better about turning away beggers. Also, don't go armed unless you really want to die. Muggers, and ruffians in general, will usually limit themselves to some good-natured bullying and bluffing until you draw a weapon. Chances are that at least one of them will be better armed than you, and will probably have fewer compunctions about using it.
  • Clothing: nondescript and drab are your best bets. Keep shiny watches pocketed or covered; accouterments of any kind attract the wrong kind of attention. For minimal impact, wear the kind of worn clothing you would when cleaning a house or washing a largish dog: old pants (non-label), work shoes (no Nikes, please), and a worn overcoat. Generally, anything that has paint smeared on it or its mate is a step in the right direction.
  • For girls only: none of the dumb crap. No phuffy hair, heels, or makeup--you're targets enough as it is. For real security, adopt a face that says you've been raped twice before, and have decided that when it happens again you'll just shut your eyes (so they don't have to kill you as a witness) and wait for it to be over. Don't you try to be saucy, don't think of yourself as liberated--because they won't, and they're bigger than you. In summary, Might may not make Right, but it can often determine your immediate future.

There are other rules, but you get the idea. What really caught my notice was how quickly the streetlife responded once I'd begun to act along those guidelines. The whores retreated, and the pimps came forward to make their deals. A whole different type of drug clientele approached to lay out their wares. And many of the unseen shadow-creatures, the vague forms you hear snuffling in the doorways, who had once grown bolder when they sensed my discomfort, instead grew silent and tried to slink back further into the protection of the gloom. In a few moments, simply by shifting my own perspective, I progressed from victim to predator in their eyes. Over the next fifteen minutes, I toyed with the fear I could induce in random encounters, but soon tired of it. I really don't have the heart to make a good sadist, I'm afraid.

An interesting incident I haven't fully fathomed yet: I approached a gang of six to eight youths, aged sixteen to twenty-six, loitering outside a liquour store. They looked as if they were considering knocking it over, or were maybe just on the prowl for some fresh meat. Anyway, as I shuffled up (eyes still glued to the broken cement before me), they began the usual pack-bullying calls: "...'jes look at that mother!...gonna fuck him up, I am... see what he's got in those pockets...hey white-boy, can't you see it's black tonight?" Not wanting to just barge through them unannounced, I looked up at them--just one look. Their eyes widened, as if in recognition, and the calls changed: "Well whaddya know, it's a copper!...damn po-lice...where's your uni-form, mister copper?" I didn't know where they got that impression, but it was apparently a unanimous belief, and since it suited my purposes admirably, I just gave my best enigmatic smile and left them with their misconception. Kept on walking till when I looked back they were gone.

Reality is what is, right? Well that was, which is the same as is, just at a different when. The mud is still drying on my boots, and my fingers can still feel the touch of a crack-dealer's palm (which was soft and dry, not the greasy caress which would have been more fitting in a literary sense). Are we of Capital not in a white tower? As alluded to in the Handbook above, wearing Greek regalia in such a quarter would have been a singularly tragic form of suicide, because it would have marked me as a college student and therefore a victim, whatever my bearing. There is a reason college students have a stereotype as being naive: they usually are. The only way you can understand the filth and come to terms with it is by wallowing in it, or at least stopping to talk with it awhile. If a kid can afford to go to college, he has probably never sank into the squallor, because he never had to. I know that some do anyway, for personal edification or insanity; that's why you help out at Faith Mission, right? To "get your hands dirty?" So it's not a tower with locked doors (not from the inside). But a tower nonetheless, because you can stay within for the entirety of your life and never have to come out. If the television monitoring the outside world bothers you, just switch it off.

What should our (my) purpose be, then? I wondered about building towers. Build them and unlock the doors and let all the filth in to relax their fears on its marble whiteness. But it wouldn't work. Even if you could build all those towers (technology could do it, I think), the people would tear them down from the inside. Like STW does with Schaaf Hall. You can't change idiots, or people who would willingly commit harm. You can't instill moral fiber in people who weren't brainwashed when young. (I hope you'll argue that point, please do, I'd love to be convinced otherwise.)

Oops. Maybe I see the trap in my own argument. If the Brothers of Sigma Tau Omega are at Cap, live in our dorms...then it isn't really a tower, is it? (Of course I'm stereotyping, it's convenient and for the most part they deserve it.) The filth is already among us, the towers are within our minds. Still, they exist and have formidable walls. I was at Faith Mission last week with a friend who'd never been there before. Afterwards, he said he was "shocked...couldn't believe there were people who lived like that." I was shocked, too--where had he been all his life? How can someone live in America for twenty-one years, a television addict no less, and not know what's going on? How do you wake such people up? How do you tear down the walls? Didn't you phrase it, "How does significant change take place?"

Or...should we knock down the walls? As Steve puts it, why not let them live their little lies, if it makes them happy? The obvious (but not necessarily correct) response: because those walls of disbelief, those lies, don't bring about happiness; they create the kind of misery I tracked in onto the carpet. So a quick assumption-check: is there value in happiness for the majority of human beings? Maybe. Does that happiness come at a price? Who pays it? The little creatures of the forest? The future? All, most likely, and more, not out of necessity, but probabilisticly determined based on human nature (the human tendency to shove expenses off on others; see, I defined a term!). If that poses a problem, then there is value on the happiness of all the creatures of the Kingdom; would that happiness be increased if all the humans were just marched off and shot? Probably. But now we're going in well-established circles and delving into fantasy, even if a pleasant one.

In summary, then (because this note grows long and we're both growing tired):

  • There are lots of people living in filth and wretchedness called The Poor;
  • of these Poor, some are nice and some are nasty, but most are miserable;
  • there are a lucky few, called The Rich, who live in nice houses and go to college;
  • these people are also split in attitude, and are often miserable as well, but with less manifest reason;
  • you can't elevate the Poor to being Rich, because being members of a bastard species they'd just go about oppressing others the way they were oppressed;

  • therefore, it seems nothing can be changed: there's always going to be the unhappy Poor, and the unhappy Rich, and with lots of dirt on the bottom and blindness at the top.

A hesitant conclusion: if this is the way things have always been, and apparently are going to be...perhaps God likes things this way?

A different direction: if you can't change anything, what's the point in doing anything? I've often asked you this question, in one form or another, but you've neither given me a clear-cut, definitive answer nor admitted that you don't know, so I'll keep pestering you with it. It sure as hell pesters me.