Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Frowning Man

He just stands there.

Most days, I take the same route to work. Most days, I am in the midst of the morning rush. Most days, I’m cranking my iPod and wishing it could go to 11. Most days at the start of the school year, I’m playing music in the hopes of drowning out the legion of warring internal voices, the too-many demands for too-little time. I arrive at work clinging to my enthusiasm, but always with the rabid dogs of negativity baying in the distance and approaching fast.

Every day, roughly half a mile from my destination, I pass a man standing on the side of the road.

He just stands there. The Frowning Man.

It’s a busy road. Thousands of cars every morning. Maybe I pass that spot at 7:30 a.m., or maybe it’s closer to 8:00. Once in a while, I’m late. It doesn’t matter to The Frowning Man. He stands. He (sort of) watches the cars pass by. He frowns.

If you remember the Burgermeister Meisterburger character from Santa Claus is Coming to Town, that’s what The Frowning Man looks like. The frown has established seemingly permanent residence into his drawn-down visage.

He will watch one car pass, and then stare after it, long after it has disappeared. That’s all I can ever see in the few seconds he’s in my line of sight.

A more sensitive soul would pass The Frowning Man every day and wonder about his life. Does he have some kind of illness? Is he struggling with Alzheimer’s, or heavy depression, or a mental deficiency? Does he know what he’s doing, or does he think he knows what he’s doing, just standing there, in the same spot, frowning as cars whiz past him some 10 yards away? Or is he in another place in his mind, and his surroundings are no more consequential or meaningful to him than Mars, or Hawaii?

I guess I’m too selfish, too religious, too much an English major to worry about these things. The Frowning Man is a signpost. He is a symbol. He is a metaphor. For something. And my only obligation as I pass him every day is not to help The Frowning Man, or to dig into his business, but rather to ponder what he means.

Didn’t we do this more in earlier times, encounter strange or inexplicable moments and interpret them as portents, omens, signs? A flood was not due to heavy rain, but rather to the wrath of God. A rainbow was a promise. A cawing crow brings dark words with its dark wings. Lightning is a sign of pending danger. Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.

Humanity feeds off its symbols. We seek them out. We force them into our lives, even when they are square pegs or do us more harm than good. Because we need them. Like dreams, signs help us in some way to make sense of our worlds. They force our minds to wrestle with shadows and light, to wrangle the wild idea stallions running through our thoughts.

One day, The Frowning Man is me. He is watching the world move too quickly past him and cannot keep up with it all. He frowns for the day ahead. He disapproves of the hand this day has dealt him. He is paralysis by analysis.

The next day, The Frowning Man is Ferguson. He is race. He is watching the world pass him by every morning, unwilling to stop or alter its tragic path. One minute we’re upset, the next we’re moving on to conversations about what Sophia Vegara wore to the Emmys.

One day, The Frowning Man is lost love, and time has left him alone on the grass, wondering how everyone has the energy to keep moving while he stands there, barely noticed and utterly abandoned.

Another day, The Frowning Man is God. He is appalled at our indifference. He wonders what it would take to shake our foundations enough to break us from our daily humdrum routine, our perfectly-scheduled start times and coffee runs.

The Frowning Man is a real man, with a real life and a real history. He is no symbol. He stands for nothing. Or, more likely, he stands for things we will never be able to understand, things we will never make the time to uncover, much less examine.

He stares.

We drive on.

Else we would be late… for something or other.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Nice.