I just wanted to get that out there.
I also like my really lame, boring temp job that leaves eight of the nine hours of the day entirely unoccupied. Wandering around suburban San Leandro at lunchtime hardly counts as an occupation.
So, I’m walking around these curvy, sunny streets every day for an hour. Sometimes I talk on the phone, sometimes I listen to music. Often I just walk.
This temp job I have right now is situated in the middle of a circle the circumference of which is entirely composed of retirement communities. One refers to itself as a “gracious retirement residence.” That makes me wonder.
Consequently, my company on the sunny suburban streets of San Leandro is comprised mainly of the elderly. This makes me wonder, too.
I remember fresh-faced and pimply me wandering the dirty streets of downtown Berkeley when I first moved there. I remember the shock of the homeless, the smell of the riff raff. I wasn’t offended, of course. I even made friends with a good many when I was living right off Telegraph.
Standing out in my memory is the picture of an older woman who, presumably, had spent much of her life terrified of the world. Or, perhaps, not terrified. But, definitely attempting to avoid it. My evidence was simple: Everywhere she walked, all the time, her head faced down. Her eyes focused only on the sidewalk, on nothing besides her feet and the soft concrete beneath them. Sometimes she’d carry two brown paper grocery bags, heavy with some sort of grocery or life stuff. Her arms would be straight at her sides, the bags barely missing the ground as her eyes bored a deeper rut in the sidewalk with every step.
I’d see her from time to time while I lived in Berkeley. I bet I’d see her still if I spent more time over there. Maybe you’ve seen her. Maybe you, too, have wondered about the life that stiffened her posture, her body eventually forming that immovable tee.
One time I passed her on Dana. She was walking towards Telegraph, and I was on my way to Shattuck–probably to play pool or some such nonsense. All I saw while I passed her in awe was the center part of her straight gray hair, the scraggly ends a no longer optional curtain over her face. I’d have to be a pancake on the sidewalk to actually get a glimpse.
There’s something about me that you should know if you’re going to make sense of what’s going on here. I have an overactive cingulate gyrus. No, really, I do. When I was a baby and my mom would take me on planes, I’d turn around and I’d make baby small talk with the people behind us. Passing people on the street, I don’t just see passerbys, I see faces. I see lives. It’s really fairly inconvenient on public transportation. Sometimes I’ll [seriously] shed a tear from the pain reflected in a fellow passenger’s face. And my overactive imagination is surely also to blame. If only it didn’t enumerate the scenarios that may or may not have put said pain there.
Anyway, so my cingulate gyrus is overactive. It’s the part of the brain that lights up, so to speak, when one sees a face. Okay, so I just looked it up and I’m totally wrong. The cingulate gyrus is the part of the brain that has to do with emotions. My cingulate gyrus, then, is just as active as one would expect given my dramatic nature. But some other part of my brain is out of whack which leads to a particularly obsessive obsession with people.
So, here I am in San Leandro, walking around and watching the old people, and remembering the Berkeley resident that has made such an indelible impression on me. And then, low and behold, I notice the top of a gentleman’s head walking right towards me. He doesn’t look up to meet my smiling face as we pass. I look across the street. I see a woman watching the ground while she ambles her way across the street. She doesn’t need to see the flashing hand, the intersection is beeping her safety message. It’s an epidemic!
Saddened by this disturbing fate of humanity, I resolved that fateful lunch break to never allow my gaze to fall–to instead face the world and welcome my cohabitants of this admittedly often cold, hard, bacteria-infested world. In keeping with this resolution, I have since tripped over bits of sidewalk multiple times and stepped in shit twice. In a week! Conclusion: the world is a dangerous place.