Friday-- March 15, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 185
Terrorism: "Avoid Eye Contact!"
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City,
Mar. 15--"Avoid eye contact, Dad! Then you won't get in
That's good advice if you're worried
about getting in trouble, but I like trouble. I thrive on it.
Trouble is when the street person in
ragged clothing and carrying the stench of months sleeping on the
sidewalks, urinating in his clothing, and wiping his nose on his sleeve
stops you and asks for a cigarette, a quarter, or anything of value you
might throw his way.
I attract the street people because I
look at them. I try and figure out where the human being is (or was)
hiding behind the filth and grime, the scars of a life on the edge of
destruction. I am also familiar with the saying: "There
but for the grace of God go I," so I find it hard to avert their pitiable
looks, that empty stare that suggests the meaning of life is burned down
to a faint wick that is flickering, struggling to stay alive when all who
pass it by see the wax is melted and the oxygen surrounding it has been
There is more to be wary of than
disenfranchised street people begging for a morsel to buy another bottle.
There are the angry people too.
The crazies dot the sidewalks.
Their eyes are fierce with anger, raging with some inner hatred toward
someone or something. They walk belligerently down the streets,
often muttering or shouting invectives, eyes bulged, glazed as the shark's
at feeding time. Eye contact with them can lead to an act of
Terrorism--where your innocent look can be construed to represent some
challenge that invades the other's presumed space, and results in a verbal
attack, or perhaps ultimately a physical one.
Opposite sex eye contact is strictly
forbidden on the streets of New York City, or at least discouraged by
anyone who doesn't want someone to misunderstand friendliness for an
invitation to jump in bed. Women who negotiate the
streets of New York City go to finishing school on "avoid eye contact,"
learning quickly that when they do slip and meet a man's eye, he usually
turns into a stalker, or rushes over to secure a date, or, in many cases,
thinks you're a "working girl" looking for quick action.
There is the same situation between men.
Avoiding eye contact with another man is recommended because if one is
protective about his sexuality, male eye contact could be considered an
act of "gay" offering.
That leaves the street to view--the dirty
sidewalk filled with battle scars of millions upon millions of shoe soles
pounding and grinding it into a pulp. It isn't pretty,
especially with dog feces splattered here and there, and wrappers cast
"Avoid Eye Contact," becomes a prison
of disinformation for a writer like myself. When I was trained in
journalism, I was taught everyone is a story. Behind the
disheveled street bum reeking of bilious odors could be a former Nobel
Prize Winner, or a famous War Hero turned into an anonymous, grimy being
not too unlike the trash that lines the sidewalks.
the elegant woman in a Russian sable fur stepping into a limo might be on
her way home to be beaten and abused by her husband, emotionally and
physically, and her sham is but a mask to the horror she lives.
To not look into the soul of human
beings--which I have learned is through their eyes--is cheating one's self
of a vision into the secrets of humanity, a path to stories that need to
be told so that others might avoid taking the wrong path, or, if on a
twisted journey, might be inspired to backtrack and take the straighter,
But I am a realist as well as an idealist. I know that staring
at another can lead to trouble whether you're in New York City or Two
It annoys me that our society has become so
paranoid about one another. I used to stop and talk to young
children, say "Hi," and use my Donald Duck Voice to make them laugh and
smile. But today, to show interest in a child suggests the you might
be a child molester, or a pedophile, so you avoid such contact.
Even my own grandchildren have been trained to not respond to a stranger's
greeting. They just look at the person and don't offer their hands
or smiles or acknowledge them, and often retort: "We don't know
While it seems sad, I do understand and support
that behavior, especially in a city like New York where you must be overly
cautious, and children are trained to be that way not only at home, but by
teachers at school.
But such walls create a Terror of others,
or, at the minimum, the Seeds of Terror. It drives people from
looking into others, seeing their souls, seeing their pain or joy.
Avoiding Eye Contact is for many a "Shield of
Vigilance," warding off unwanted advances, or misinterpretations of
intent. With a three- and five-year stable of
grandchildren, I am well aware of the necessity to be cautious.
Vigilance, hopefully, will one day override the
Terrorism of looking another person in the eye. Perhaps my
grandchildren's children, or their children, will inherit a world where
one, in a crowded city, can look another in the eye without fear or
intimidation of what that other person might think or intend you mean
beyond just a friendly gesture.
But for the moment--the NOW--those who
aren't my size--6-4, 270 pounds--need to be Vigilant about the words:
"Avoid Eye Contact."
It's not a pleasant way to live, but it is
To Mar. 14--Cab Flag Mystery Solved
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