Saturday, February 20, 2016

Loitering All Day Long


Wagging about: against the law in these parts

I checked the dictionary definition of "loiter", but it started off with "to wag about," and ended with some stuff that was more vague than what I was already thinking. It carries the sense for me of hanging around with no real purpose. The sign above is along a quiet bike path next to the canal, with some benches and shade, which actually seems like an excellent place to hang around with no real purpose.

But then, how would you know the purpose of someone? I imagined riding past this sign, seeing three guys hanging around, and thinking to myself, yep, they're loitering. But thinking it over, it's not that they had no purpose whatsoever. I'm sure my imagined three guys had some purpose in hanging out there, even if it was to drink beer concealed in rumpled paper bags, smoke weed, and kill time, they still most definitely had a purpose. 

So rather than hanging around with no real purpose, it's probably more accurately something like, "hanging around with a purpose I don't approve of," or something similar to that. I mean, imagine the same three guys, exact same place and time, but each holding a shovel, moving gravel from a pile into holes. Not loitering, right? So it's not about no purpose, it's about a judgment of purpose. This purpose, shoveling gravel, is OK (for some reason), but that other purpose, beer/weed/killing time, is not OK. 

Once I saw a homeless guy sitting right there on the ledge, next to his shopping cart full of stuff, reading Catcher in the Rye. Loitering, or not?

Could the same person, in the same place, sitting still, be guilty of loitering depending on what the purpose of their sitting still was? I read that St. Francis's great prayer, which he sometimes spent all night praying, was "Who are you, God? And who am I?" So let's imagine one guy sitting here silently praying and contemplating that, while another sitting in the same place is just waiting to meet an acquaintance who's bringing him some liquor. Both not really doing anything, not moving. Both loitering? And how's a police officer to decide? Would he somehow know it when he sees it? Anyway, is it actually required that I state my purpose? Praying Francis' great prayer, or waiting for booze, either one is private, isn't it?

Parked my bike by this nice sitting log to contemplate

I parked my bike by this nice sitting log to contemplate loitering. Which means, my purpose was to contemplate loitering. Where would that fall on the worthy purpose spectrum? I was kind of hoping an officer would come along and ask me what I was doing, inquire as to my purpose for sitting on the log on a warm, quiet afternoon next to the water, and I wondered why I would even need a purpose to do that, or if I would tell him the truth. Perhaps instead I would take out three pieces of paper, write down "Praying Francis' Great Prayer," "Waiting for booze," and "Contemplating the relationship between loitering and the perceived value of purpose," put the slips into my bike helmet, and draw one out. "Here, here's my purpose. Am I loitering?"

Sorry dude

Add a fourth slip of paper to the hat: "My purpose is to be off the clock and have no purpose." N/A. None of the above. That, I guess, would be pure loitering, but I suppose that's pretty rare, since now everyone is connected all the time, always going somewhere, taking a call, sending a text, updating a post, true loitering, wagging about with no purpose in the world, is likely rare. But today, a warm February day with blazing sunshine, I put down the shovel and went for a bike ride. I guess I was loitering for a full two hours this afternoon, right by many NO LOITERING signs, and it was fine. 

I couldn't shake the feeling, though, that the NO LOITERING laws and signs are for hassling people considered to be undesirable, mainly so that they can go loiter somewhere else. Or, perhaps, go and do something "productive," go an pick up a shovel and move some gravel, rather than sitting on a log in the sun beside the canal. 

Who are you? And who am I?


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