Thursday, February 26, 2009

Public Displays of Emotion


Earlier today, I conducted a sociological experiment. I hadn't set out to do it, but I should have known when I sat down at a window table at Cosi, right on 15th and Locust, and then called my mother. What followed, regardless of the ups and downs of mother-daughter relations, struck me as one more reason I love city life.

I had been dreading this phone call for several days, after a tense couple of days visiting. I knew we needed to talk; she knew we needed to talk. I had put off the conversation earlier in the morning, when I sat for several hours at home, phone on the desk before me, talking to myself instead of to her, hoping to manage a (one-sided) conversation without a lump in my throat.

Sure enough, not only did I not manage to make the call, as soon as I started down the sidewalk I heard the phone in my pocket. I didn't answer, but at Cosi I decided I may as well close my eyes, press "call back," and wait for the fallout.

My mother and I spoke for about half an hour. During the entire call, I sat facing out, my back to my fellow patrons, but facing the window just by the PATCO entrance. It was a busy time; people came and went. For half an hour I cried, openly, the tears streaming down my cheeks, my nose running, as I talked. I wept. And as my tears fell, a part of my brain (writer? Yes!) noticed the responses from the people passing on the street. Nearly all glanced in the window. A few looked away quickly, perhaps embarrassed for me, perhaps wishing not to be rude. More kept walking, but met my gaze briefly, their eyes questioning, a little sympathetic. What, they must have wondered, was I talking about? To whom? But the most interesting response was that of two or three people who slowed and stared. Stared. Blank curiosity on their faces. It felt like an exchange that could only happen in the city: I was obviously okay, not hurt or in need of assistance, just sad. They recognized I didn't need them for anything, but found it interesting that I was there with salt streaks on my face, in effect performing my misery like a street show. I had become an emotional busker, sans tip jar. In a suburban development, I'd have been a leper (I think); in a friendlier small town, I would have been asked if I was okay, what was wrong, and so on. Urban life allows for something I value so much: observation, without interference.

I think we should all weep in public on occasion. I felt linked in to humanity. I wonder how my audience felt? At any rate, it's not something I think I'll do a lot of, not being that huge of an exhibitionist. Oh wait ... I'm blogging ... okay, a bit of an exhibitionist.

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