I had no idea that getting my hair cut this weekend would make me think about the Ten Commandments. I showed up for my appointment, met Natalie the stylist, and showed her the multimedia presentation I had prepared on my laptop regarding the kind of hair I do and do not want sprouting off my head. This is how I approach haircuts since September, when a New York hairdresser listened to me explain what I wanted, nodded, and then did the opposite, leaving me with a bowlcut not unlike the one I had in sixth grade.
Any perspective will reveal that a bowlcut shouldn't be that big of a deal but several people could testify that my immediate reaction was a fantasy involving the Anarchist Cookbook, a hardware store, a pipe bomb, and doing something DEFINITELY prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Natalie and I quickly struck up the sort of salon intimacy that usually makes me feel phony. For some reason, though, this time I yakked away with fluidity.
While Natalie washed my hair, we talked about Columbus and how I like living here. She asked where I lived in New York and I told her: the East Village and the Bronx. She also asked about Cincinnati. The client before me had also been from Cincinnati and told Natalie that there isn't much racism there. Ahem. I'm thinking that this client has either not spent much time outside her secluded monochromatic enclave in the last ten years or she had recently been cured of deaf-blindness, realized her hair looked like ass, and that's how she ended up in Natalie's chair that morning blabbing about how progressive Cincinnati is.
For 18 years I lived in the pleasant and mostly-white suburb of Hyde Park and for a year after that I lived downtown in historic and mostly-black neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. I told Natalie it's a pretty segregated city and that race relations can be tense. She asked what Columbus neighborhood I live in and I told her Old Towne East.
"How are your neighbors?" Natalie wondered.
"Um....I don't know. I don't know any of my neighbors."
We moved on from the subject and by the time I left the salon I felt light and bouncy and pranced down the sidewalk pretending not to secretly check out my new reflection in the storefronts. But there's one thing that will almost surely alter this sort of glib and self-absorbed mood and that is PIRG canvassers. I encountered one within a few blocks of the salon. A kid from the citizen organization Public Interest Research Group was standing down the street and I know he gripped his clipboard a little tighter when he saw me coming. No amount of eye-averting or false distraction on my part was going to keep him from posing whatever thorny question he felt obliged to ask.
The Village Voice calls these goodhearted civic-minded workers charity muggers. In New York there were charity muggers outside my work who would ask me, "Do you have a moment to help save the children of the world?" Except for the time I stopped to give one my parents' address since they actually do reserve lots of moments for saving the children of the world, I would say "No, I don't" without stopping. Which, GOOD LORD, sounds callous in writing.
I'd think, "Don't you all know you are on Fifth Avenue where stopping could result in injury?"
And that I believe is where the callousness stemmed from. Leaving work in New York was a uniquely bad time to be asked to stop, at least for me. I was usually in a rush or my mind was busy emptying out what I'd just done for the workday and filling up with what I wanted to personally achieve in the hours I still had before sleep. Right or wrong, in those moments I was self-absorbed and not focused on world issues. I'd also imagine myself stopping to explain to them that I, too, worked for a non-profit organization and was underpaid because my publishing company struggled financially, that I simply could not spare a donation right then. I'd wrestle briefly with my conscience and continue rushing to the 6 train.
Saturday's canvasser in Columbus wore a huge button on his coat emblazoned with a graphic of the Great Lakes. I smiled as I got closer and maintained eye contact while he politely inquired, "Excuse me, can you spare a minute to help Lake Erie?" I smiled ruefully and said, "No, sorry."
"Have a nice day!" He said as I passed.
"Thank you," I said over my should and then proceeded to wonder who I had apologized to. I decided I apologized to Lake Erie as well as to the children of the world who have been saved enough to inherit the earth and the dismal shape it's in. A fog settled into me and sunk fully into place while watching the local news in the living room. The Columbus news loves crime and seriously won't shut up for five minutes about all the horrible stuff happening locally, some of which takes place in my neighborhood.
In Old Towne East, stately stained glass windowed houses share corners with decrepit lots. It is a community in transition, which I believe means that of the neighborhood's residents, there's a wide range of both money in people's pockets and melatonin in people's skin. The first month I lived here I walked home at night a lot. I sensed that maybe it wasn't the BEST idea in the world and stopped listening to my iPod so as to be more alert. Bova told me to stop but I did it few more times until someone else told me stories involving kidnapping and an attempted break in: exhibits A and B of why my mother doesn't mind my having borrowed her car for weeks on end.
In New York there are hundreds of people around at any hour, day or night. There's so much going on and so many things to look at that "Oh, a crackwhore" is instantly followed by "That woman has her dog in her handbag" and "I think I'll buy a falafel sandwich." This is not so in smaller cities. I was dogsitting this weekend and while walking the dog yesterday I remembered my conversation with Natalie about my neighbors and I thought of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments get shuffled around and mean different things depending on whether you are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim and I'm certainly not literal enough to want to love all my neighbors just yet, but I would go out of my way not to bear false witness or covet their houses, wives, manservants, maidservants, oxen, and asses.
I'd actually prefer to just be friendly with them. I exchanged several "How's it going?"s and laughed when a kid on the street asked the dog's name.
"Her name's Karma," I told him.
"I better not pet her, she'll come back to get me."
Good one, kid. You're awesome.
I don't think that a universal code of conduct that may have been given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai is necessarily going to do anything about the people who really would like to do all that coveting, much the less the graver thou shalt nots of bodily harm as seen on the Columbus nightly news, but you gotta start somewhere. And maybe that's where the canvassers do come in.