Monday, April 04, 2005

Take your headphones out

I love music. I love dancing to it, making out to it, lying in bed with the lights out and listening to it, going to live concerts.

But I don't like listening to it as I'm walking down the street. I believe it's a waste, because the streets have their own music.

My friend Rikhil loves to walk around listening to his iPod. He said once, "It's like you're on a different plane when you're listening to music. You're checked out of reality. What's more, you can instantly look around and detect the other people who've got their headphones in. You sort of nod at each other. You're each in the same plane."

It's not natural for a human being to be in an urban environment. We evolved to live in tribes of 30-60 people, all of whom we were close with. Our natural instinct is to make eye contact and acknowledge other human beings near us, to tune in to their energy and aura.

In a city, this can be terrifying. But it can also be exhilarating.

I believe that these are all messengers:

--The man wobbling across the road with a gaping tear across the backside of his dirty jeans. He looks at me and spits onto the pavement. My skin crawls all the way from my skull to the small of my back.

--The Midwestern tourist family. Their jeans are pale, their backs are broad; both the mother and the father consult maps as they walk down the street. After they've gone ten feet, they stop, look all around, and then walk back in the same direction.

--The fellow biker who zips past me as I take a right turn. He calls, "This is such a beautiful day!"

--The gorgeous woman hugging herself and gazing dreamily at the ground as she floats along. She looks up at me and winks.

--The man walking his poodle. Try as I might, I cannot detect a single detail that does not contradict the stereotype of a fabulous Dupont Circle gay yuppie. His poodle is immaculately groomed, with a shiny leather collar. He's whistling to himself.

--The woman rushing to work in the morning. She's wearing dusty sneakers under her stockinged skirt suit, her hair hasn't been brushed yet, her purse is falling off her sloping shoulder, and a bulging supermarket plastic bag dangles from one hand as she half-runs, banging uncomfortably against her leg. She bumps against me and mutters, "Sorry..." as she hurries on.

--The construction worker who calls to me from a cloud of dust, "Hey, can I have your number?" I look him in the eye and say, "Nope."

All of these strangers, and thousands more, are all messengers. Sometimes the message is disturbing, sometimes it is life-affirming. Usually, if you think about it a little bit, you can figure out why the message is eerily appropriate for you right exactly then.

And ultimately, I believe, you figure out that all of the messages were the same. What is it? Dear reader, I hope someday we'll know.


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