The VigilanceVoice
Friday-- March 15, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 185

Terrorism: "Avoid Eye Contact!"
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 15--"Avoid eye contact, Dad!  Then you won't get in trouble!"
        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 strangled.
        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 carelessly
        "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.
       Conversely, 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, safer one.
      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 Boots, Montana.  
      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 you!"
      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 certainly safer.

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