There’s an old man in the building next to mine who’s outside on the corner nearly every day. He’s balding, but most of the time he’s got a cap on to ward off the cold. He smokes, so he certainly has a reason to be out there when he’s smoking, but once he finishes his cigarette he usually lingers. My dog usually barks at him, and despite my dog’s imposing size, bark, and snapping teeth, the man’s expression never changes. He doesn’t alter his course of direction, and he rarely even acknowledges that my dog is there.
His cool stoicism makes me wonder what he did before he had all this free time to stand around on a corner. Did he work for the mob? Was he some sort of hardass union boss? How often did he face death to be so calm and collected at the sight of a dog about his size and weight snarling and barking with so much anger? What part of his soul does my dog see that puts him on edge?
And what’s his apartment like? I imagine it’s sparsely decorated with a few old pieces of furniture that he spends about as much time on as he does that corner. He doesn’t like the furniture to smell like smoke, or maybe his late wife didn’t, and he can’t bring himself to smoke in the house out of respect for her wishes. So he walks himself outside no matter how cold it is, regardless of what’s out there threatening him, to make her happy and watch the world go by.
There’s got to be some appeal. I see old people standing on corners all over Chicago. Is this just a Chicago thing? Is there more to ponder on corners here? I feel like I never saw old people on corners in Los Angeles. Was I not looking for them? Was I looking through them? Were they even there? Or were they somehow more contented being inside, despite the fact that by and large, the weather where they are is much more ideal for standing in?
I find myself lost in thought a lot more here. Or maybe I just have more time for thinking because I walk my dog four or five times a day, and lately I’ve been opting out of bringing my cellphone. Mainly when I walk, I listen to the trees rustling in the wind. I listen to cars and sirens going by on the busy streets blocks from my walking route. I listen to the silence of the morning, or the evening, or whatever odd hour both my dog and I happen to be awake, haunting the streets.
Maybe standing on the corner is all these older folks can muster now. They used to be me, walking their dogs or their children around the block to make their life in the house a little more bearable because everyone’s energy levels were lower. Now there’s nobody else to walk with them, but they’ve grown used to having their time to think – to wander around lost in their own thoughts – so they’ve kept the routine by visiting the corner.
Sometimes they’ll start up conversations with passersby, similar to how I’ll shoot somebody a text out of the blue – they just meander into my consciousness for a moment, so I engage them. Sometimes they’ll be picking up odd, disgusting-smelling fruits one by one and placing them in a shopping bag for some reason. Sometimes they’ll be raking leaves, or tending to their small garden.
But mostly, they just stand there, staring off into the distance. Looking either forward or backward in time, or just being present and in the moment. Listening to the rustling of trees and watching the light of the sun or the moon glint and flicker off the frozen surroundings. Taking as much of it in as they can, while they can, because who knows how long that’ll be?
I’ll be honest, when I started writing this, I really didn’t expect to feel so connected to the people on the corners, but now that I think about it, that’s what we all are. People on corners, looking down each street expecting something to come to us, or preparing to move ourselves in new directions. And hopefully we get to enjoy as much of what our senses can grasp on to while we stand motionless. I started out pitying them, but now I think they’re really onto something. I’ll have to give it a shot someday when I’m not so busy moving.