A Room With a View
He stood on the edge of his known world, a stoic monument to youthful audacity. A sentinel, braving the oppressive heat of summer as the sun glared down at the top of his close-cropped head. Nothing could bring him down and he knew it. His stance spoke to nature itself, demanding that it bow down to his confident superiority. He looked out and knew that he commanded everything in sight. He was king.
He raised his scepter aloft, and, after taking a moment to appreciate its glint in the late afternoon sun, closed his eyes. Bracing himself, he took an expectant breath, and pressed it to his face.
Boom. Ice cream everywhere.
Suddenly the scene was one of bitter regret—weeping and gnashing of teeth. He tried again and again, bringing the cone up and missing his mouth entirely. Cold drips of sugar and milk ran down his forearms and neck, staining his shirt.
It was an exercise in futility on a cosmic scale. A struggle that would make even Sisyphus be glad for his boulder. How could things have come to this? How could something that once held so much hope, bring nothing but despair? How in the world are you supposed to eat an ice cream cone?
Life is hard for a four-year-old.
At least, that’s how I saw things from my table outside of the Thirsty Scholar yesterday. This poor hero of childhood came stumbling along the sidewalk, holding his mother’s hand and the ice cream. They walked to the edge of the sidewalk, waited for the light to change, and his chaos began.
Here’s the problem with being four: you live in a world designed for people significantly larger than yourself. Nothing is built with you in mind and everything is unwieldy. Try as you might, food ends up spilled down your front because you simply can’t handle the process of feeding yourself.
I got to relive that pain from the comfort of my local coffee shop and, in that moment, I remembered why I love sitting there. People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes.
If it isn’t a hobby you’re already practicing, you need to start today. There are few things as satisfying to me as watching a busy street and seeing life blow by, unaware of my scrutiny. I’ve done it in Chattanooga coffee shops for years, feeling pompously Parisian with my hot coffee, but being in Indianapolis has let me see a whole new breed of passerby.
You can learn a lot about a person by seeing them just going about their day. It’s naturalistic observation—seeing someone in their element. Watching a person live in their own world, oblivious to others, sheds all kind of light on the community you live in. You want to get the flavor of a neighborhood like I’ve been doing in King Park? Just watch the place go about its business.
It doesn’t have to be our gallant hero dealing with calamity. There’s always a host of characters strutting, ambling, or sometimes bumbling along the streets here, all of which invite some kind of made-up story.
Why is that man dressed up like the tin-man?
Why is that woman carrying what looks like a ceramic stork?
Where did that man’s shirt go, and how did he possibly grow that much back hair?
These are pretty valid questions in my mind, brought on by an afternoon sitting at that coffee shop and hoping they don’t see me staring. Now that I write it all out, my hobby sounds profoundly creepy, and I suppose it is. But that’s the price this city is going to have to pay for having an interesting population.
So keep doing your thing, Indy. Keep it lively, keep it fun, and keep it a little bit weird if you feel so inclined. I’ll love every minute of it. Just try to not spill too much ice cream down your front.