December 9th, 2019
We emerged from the underworld.
The Red Line has a stop near the corner of State and Lake in downtown Chicago. Sean, Sarah, and I got off the train there. We went through the turnstiles, and climbed the stairs to street level. I immediately lost my bearings. That’s what I hate about subways. I always feel disoriented when I surface.
Fortunately, Sean and Sarah were there as my guides. Sean quickly put up an antiwar banner, and then posted himself across the street, near the Chicago Theater. Sarah and I stood in front of the Channel 7 recording studios. We proceeded to hand out flyers.
To be more accurate, we proceeded to attempt to hand out flyers. The pedestrians who passed us by appeared to be less than interested. Sean, who has experience with this sort of thing, designed the flyer to silently scream “Stop the war in Iran!”
It was a simple message, although confusing to at least one individual. A man with a long, drooping mustache walked past me as I held up a copy of the flyer and said, “I didn’t know there even was a war in Iran.” Well, yeah, that’s true. Americans are not yet actively shooting or bombing people there. Our government is determined to destroy the Iranian economy, which is a sort of warfare. However, to the casual observer, that does not look like war.
I hate being invisible. For many people on the sidewalk, that is exactly what I was. I had to be impressed with the effort that many a passerby made to ignore me. Some of them looked away from me when they were still several feet away, and they stared into the distance. Perhaps they were suddenly fascinated by some pigeon droppings on the ledge of a building on the other side of the street. Maybe they just wanted to avoid eye contact at all cost.
Some people did make eye contact with me. That was apparently painful for them. They would give me a small, tortured smile. Some of them would nod. A few of them with voices would politely say, “No, thank you.” It was awkward at best.
I did, in fact, give out some flyers. That was always a welcome surprise. One woman stared at the flyer in my hand and immediately whipped out her phone. She said,
“I want to take a picture of this.”
I told her, “Uh, there is more stuff on the back of it.”
She paused, put away her phone momentarily, and took the flyer from my hand.
Sarah got into a long discussion about Iran with a homeless woman. She told me about it.
“I talked to this homeless woman for a while. She was quite well-informed. I also talked with a friend of hers.”
In a way I am not surprised by this. The homeless people are our kindred spirits. Nobody pays attention to them, and nobody pays attention to us. All of us are invisible.
Sean rushed across the busy street, effectively dodging the the chaotic traffic. He was excited. He told us,
“I figured it out! I have combined the war in Iran with Merry Christmas!”
Cool. Whatever works.
Note: Sean loves to cross in the middle of scary streets. Perhaps it is part of his struggle against fascism. Maybe he just likes to tempt death. It’s hard to tell.
I have thought about why I failed so miserably to hand out antiwar flyers. I suspect it that has to do with my appearance. I tend to exude a sort of hobo chic. As my wife, Karin, told me once,
“You look like a vagrant.”
It is very possible that some of the festive Christmas shoppers assumed that I was handing out flyers simply to get them to give up their spare change. I don’t know. If I had stood on the sidewalk long enough, then perhaps somebody would have tossed me a crumpled dollar bill, and that would have confirmed my hypothesis.
We spent an hour on State Street. We were islands of stability amid a swirling mass of humanity. It is possible, in fact likely, for a person to absolutely alone while being surrounding by other humans. A person can cease to exist in a crowd.
I wanted to exist again.