I like talking to Barry. Maybe because he is a backwards thinking, slightly racist, sexist privileged old man with old ideas.
Barry listens. He’s been doing it for years. Observing the city streets from his seat at the entrance to the town hall. Sometimes the most violent stories are just meters away from his face. He does not flinch. Raises his voice when he needs to, and showing compassion to the city most desperate people on a daily basis.
Barry tells me he’s not sure about the plague. There’s something fishy he reckons. You can’t trust the authorities he says. He claims he practice healthy skepticism. Barry says that if there are nine people saying one thing and the tenth is standing on the side saying that they are all wrong he’ll listen to the skeptic.
How do you know what story to listen to Barry? How do you know what is relevant to you? Is the one shouty person on a busy city street necessarily speaks the truth, or do they just seek attention and express their passions?
Barry paused for a second. Looked around and said – “that’s a good point”. He could relate to that. He developed a rugged but pleasant outfit, and a skill for identifying who is troublemaker, who’s just nuts and who actually needs help. He did this through years of being stationed at the front entrance of the town hall, learning to read the streets. He just didn’t apply this logic to the unusual situation of a global plague.
It’s not about representing all sides equally and listening to the unpopular opinions. It’s about developing a strong bollocks detector. Assessing risk, distinguishing between facts, theories, opinions and fairytales. Barry knows that. He lives it.
I know that too, from living in the building just above Barry’s workplace for ten years. Hearing millions of stories collide, compete for my attention and diffuse into the smog just as suddenly as they appeared.
What are you telling me, my beloved city? Which story shall I follow? I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff. I want to beware of the bad stuff.
So many stories in a split second of your song. The song of my city. It’s humming and buzzing, hissing and shrieking, beeping and singing. Sometimes in a slow crescendo but mostly abruptly.
A truck is reversing towards a party of drunken bucks while a passionate follower spreads the word of Jesus on the corner of the street. Ecstatic football fans express their joy or despair. Sirens steal the limelight from a busker just when they get to the best part of the song.
Which story shall I choose? Which story I should care for? I lend my ears but will I ever get em back? Is it all connected? What’s the overarching narrative? The main characters? I cannot tell.
The stories are endless and I sift through them with my ears. Trying to stitch a puzzle from pieces that only exist temporarily. All pieces of the puzzle are fleeting and only manifest in my sonic existence as take note of them.
Stories begin and end without warnings or disclaimers. Stealing my ears. Tell me something important please. Please me with harmony and a sense of identity. Focus me on the task at hand.
But the city doesn’t listen. She just likes to go on and on. Even in times of a plague. The engines, the fans, the machinery of progress and convenience of life presented by the choir of industrial capitalism.
In the south of the lush river and hills. The stories are few but each one is defined and pronounced. I don’t need to tune out or try to find the right one. Even if I wanted, I couldn’t. The story comes to me. It is usually whole and informative. Wraps me up in clear meaning. Sparks curiosity. Tells me just the things I need to know.
The roosters are awake.
Someone is coming.
A mouse making a home in the crevices of the roof.
The birds are busy.
The rain is here.