Standing on a street corner brings insightful opportunities for observing behaviours and attitudes of passing people. What is it about the street “corner” that invites complex personal exchange between strangers?
Yes, I hear your smothered laughter at the obvious innuendo of prostitution and drugs. Agreed, assumptions lead to funny, immediate interpretations. Street corners are a classic icon of forbidden fruits.
When did street corners acquire their notoriety? Prov.7:10-23 has a biblical reference to street corners and squares as places where tempting encounters frequently took place. (All innuendos are provocatively intentional.) It follows with dire warnings to the immature in Jer. 3:3, Prov. 2:16; 5:3, 6:24-25, 7:5, etc. The mistrust for certain public spaces has seeped across generations into present days. There remains a dubious and nefarious aroma cloaking street corners.
Wikipedia, educator of sundry grey topics, offers some guidance. “The definition of “sexual activity” varies, it is often “defined as an activity requiring physical contact with the customer”. Britannica, slogs in with; “any activity—solitary, between two persons, or in a group—that induces sexual arousal” “Any activity” certainly leaves room for wide interpretations. Britannica offers a further tidbit. “Two major determinants of human sexual activity: 1) inherited sexual response patterns evolved as a means of ensuring reproduction and that are part of each individual’s genetic inheritance, and 2) degree of restraint or other types of influence exerted on individuals by society in the expression of their sexuality”.
This opens whole new levels in Pandoras’ Social Box especially when we envision the concepts of “customer service” and “inherited sexual response” to this messy mix. Both conversations bound to knock anyone off the corner curb and into a morality ditch.
Who could predict a battered cement curve could have such historical and social impact on individuals and, society?
Back to standing on my street corner again, dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt. What message do passers perceive me broadcasting simply by my extended presence here? Across from me, a road construction team is sweating in the mid-day heat. The corner flagger wearily stopping and slowing traffic, his humanity blurred by his occupation. Drivers shout abuse, seeking to bully through with the threatening power of their cars and perceived privilege. As they pass, the flagger flips them off, a symbolic reclaiming of self in a disparate social exchange. Rage spreads like a virus in the congested traffic.
A car slows near my corner, blackened windows, and expensive hubs. The passenger window slides down and I am bordered in its dark frame. He presses the gas and is gone. I don’t fit his street corner profile. Across from me the flagger briefly smiles and waves at the passing car who has thanked him for his work. Kindness spreads across the next several cars, limited absolution, before the abuse resumes.
I am full of questions, as I lean on a tarred power pole watching this micro-world. A homeless person has camped further up, bicycles and debris creating a sort of defence barricade. Oddly reminiscent of decorator crabs. There are varying degrees of invisibility surrounding everyone involved in these four squared corners. This temporary society. My positioning creates an uncomfortable and prominent staging.
Passers acknowledge me with direct, querying stares that challenge my occupation of this space. What am I doing here? As if I must provide a legitimate answer to salve internal fears. Standing here demands public explanation.
The flagger, despite his red, reflection STOP sign is less visible than I am. Less human somehow and perceived as valid targets for impersonal animosity and trauma. His evident exhaustion the combination of a brutal work environment and de-humanization. In 2020, a the height of the pandemic, he was, for a moment, an essential work hero. Claps are few and far between in 2021.
A pedestrian, steaming coffee in hand, does a curb-side side-step. Eyes targeted on her phone she deftly ignores the homeless woman plunging her hands into the wastebin searching for food. Homelessness is the absolute bastion of personal invisibility. As disconnected tent communities however, they draw endless attention and commentary. I wonder, what is the line between humanity and de-humanization. We treat stray dogs better than people around us.
The coffee shop midway up the road is bustling with sidewalk conversations and laughter. To the customers, life is “business as usual”. There is a distance from the corner. More than a few casual steps down the sidewalk. It is a world away.
Individual life experiences so close and yet, so far apart. I muse on this curious disparity. What price does society pay for assumptions? How do we define a legitimate life? Why does our positioning imply our worth? I walk away from my corner with more questions than answers.
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