I am in the way no matter where I am or what I do.
I am in the way standing in the kitchen, waiting at Starbuck’s for my coconut milk latte, grocery shopping with or without a cart, passing a dog walker on the sidewalk, even driving. I am in the way everywhere I go. As undergraduates say, literally.
Now, I like to think of myself as philosophical or the kind of guy who stares at the floor and asks for more time to think things over. What I am actually thinking about is how uninterested I am in what you have to say, but that’s another story.
My point is that looking at the situation philosophically, I have come up with several explanations for my being squeezed. Again, literally.
First, there are more people in the world. I am old enough to recall a time when there were half as many human beings on the planet as there are today, which was brought home to me just yesterday. I bought Irish whiskey at the grocery store, the clerk asked for my birth date, and when I answered I thought I detected a pause among the people standing behind me.
As if that weren’t enough to draw everyone’s attention, the clerk then unceremoniously dropped the bottle of whiskey on her foot and let out a howl.
Second, there isn’t as much room as there used to be. This differs from the population explanation, since it has to do with design rather than the number of people per square foot. Are architects and interior designers narrowing our spaces even as we grow in girth? You don’t have to see conspiracies everywhere to smell something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just look at airplane aisles and seats. Is space getting smaller by design?
Third, it’s not you, it’s me. Let me give an example. As I stand there, waiting for the waitress to clear the table from the previous diners, I move from one side to the other, trying to give her room to maneuver. When that doesn’t work, I offer to help bus the table. As I do, a family creeps up from behind. I have to clear space for them and their stroller as well as allow the waitress to pass. But by then a busboy has come to her aid and a bottleneck has formed over a three-table area of the restaurant.
All right, it could be me. I used to fumble around the kitchen after dinner to get out of washing and drying dishes. I began the ploy in junior high school and continue it today. It is an old trick, but it works like magic.
Still, I don’t think that’s what’s going on right now. It is me, but it’s not just me. You can find the space problem everywhere. We are crowding each other in just about every way imaginable. I have a feeling the presidential election will turn out to be the culmination of getting in each other’s way. I’m not exactly going out on a limb by saying that.
So what is going on? We seem to be thinking and living in tighter corners these days, which is troubling. If we’re not careful, urban planners will have us living out of cardboard boxes and riding bicycles to work. They call that progress. And think about the predictions for urban growth by 2030, when most of the planet will be living in or near a megalopolis. Or, as comedian Ross Bennett puts it, on the edge of a Walmart.
As for my problem, I haven’t ruled out the possibility that being perpetually in the way is due to my invisibility. After all, when people don’t see you, they can step on you. Actually, they do that when they can see you.
This week alone, someone backed into me and stood on my shoes. Another person failed to recognize me standing six inches from his elbow. I stood there waiting for him to finish a conversation so I could introduce myself. Finally, I just walked away. It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive. At least I’ve been told that. Of course, I’ve been told that by the same people who back into me.
I blame the coronavirus. It’s all the rage right now.