Monday, November 28, 20050 Comments
London is a different story. The streets are teeming with silent people, all journeying in the same direction, bumping off each other as if they are floating along in their own bubbles. So what is it that makes people apathetic to others? With a metropolitan population of approximately 14 million souls, it becomes very difficult to feel connected with anyone. Since moving to London, I have begun to realize that perhaps I am no different; it has become easier to avoid eye contact with street hawkers selling everything from theatre tickets to religion and in my rush to get to where I need to be, I try not to see the homeless. Hello, my name is Lauren, and I’m an apathetic.
In sharp contrast to this common indifference to the invisibles, is our urge to congregate in massive crowds, enduring rain, and numbing extremities to catch a glimpse of the famous. There were thousands of us in Leicester Square for the Harry Potter premier, squealing like little girls at the sight of the back of Daniel Radcliffe’s head. Okay, I confess. I squealed like a little girl too. So in this bewildering city where none of us give a crap and a half about the guy next-door what were we doing there? Why was it so important to see and be seen for even a moment by someone famous? What is it that makes us discern celebrity from anonymity?
Sometimes, it feels good to know that nobody is really watching. When one farts loudly on the street or is caught engaging in any other embarrassing and uncomfortable situation; such as having one’s skirt tucked into one’s panties upon exiting the lou, walking into a lamp post or discreetly picking one’s nose in public, it is a reassuring feeling to know that any Tom, Dick or Harold who may have been present could care less. I’ve got another story for you. It takes place on Oxford Street, which on a Saturday night is a chaotic mess of blinking lights, crowds so thick it is impossible to move without collision and voices of all kinds pleading for something or other. –“Find the Lord on Oxford!” --“Get your souvenirs while you can!” –“Say no to drugs!” –“Say yes to cheap tickets!” Despite all of these cries for attention, not one head turns. This was the first time I had ever really taken the time to walk alone along Oxford Street. It took me forever to figure out how to get there, but when I finally found it I was in awe. I wandered in and out of glittering department stores as if they were dreams until it started to get dark and I decided that it was a good time to catch the bus home. There was just one problem. I had crossed the road so many times that I hadn’t the foggiest idea on which side of the street I should catch the number 13 to Great Portland Street. So I wandered into a nearby tube station and asked an attendant what the shortest route to Great Portland Street was. “Sorry, Love, but if you’re trying to get to Great Portland you’ll have to transfer at least three times. If I were you I’d walk.” He gave me some highly unintelligible directions that to the map-illiterate are like trying to understand Japanese when the only hint of the language you have ever come into contact with is on the package of Mr. Noodles. But, being stubborn as hell, I wandered up and down Oxford in the dark, until my feet were sore and I was sick of being pushed and shoved by way too many anonymous, uncaring people. Finally, when I thought that I might never get home, I stopped at a corner where there were several police chatting.
Remember how I said sometimes anonymity is nice when you are embarrassing yourself in public? Right then I was really wishing not to be invisible in this crowd and that someone within an inch of me would stop and say “are you okay?” I was looking around, wide-eyed and clearly frazzled when someone did say “Miss? Are you alright?” It was one of the police in the funny yellow jackets and when I turned around to face her, I realized that I had been so caught up in thinking that I was lost in a place full of strange and uncaring crowds that I hadn’t even thought to ask another person for help. “I’m lost,” I said, as the street evangelist cried out “Find yourself through Jesus!”
“It’s okay. We all get a little turned around once in a while. I thought by the looks of it you might’ve been sacked or something…I’m a little nosey…” And at that moment, I realized something. Maybe we are so caught up in thinking that we are invisible nobodies in the crowd that we become apathetic and forget to notice others. I am no different. The other day, I am sure that I walked past at least four homeless men without “noticing.” I probably bumped into several people without so much as an “excuse me.” But everybody wants to be somebody. Why else would we queue up in the freezing rain for hours in Leicester Square just to catch a glimpse of celebrities as they whoosh past in their cars, as if in that brief moment when our eyes meet we might become somebodys too. I think I realized then, that being a somebody, sometimes means reaching out and making a connection. You just have to slow down and really see.