Fantasy of Being in the Denouement

SW 56 ST, a main Miami thoroughfare that runs right outside
my apartment complex, on a cloudy yet stunning afternoon.

I have a fantasy, which I try to make a reality as often as possible, of being in the denouement of something. It gives me giddy pleasure to be the least one to leave a classroom on the last day of school, the last one to be on campus after everyone’s left to their homes, the last one to witness a coworker’s last day of work, the last one to leave a newly defunct facility or home. I’m not quite sure why, but I’m always looking for ways to be the last one to leave from something.

During the week of finals for the fall semester, for example, it would give me great pleasure to be the last one to leave from the Honors College lounge after the last day of finals.

Maybe the fetish stems from having an appreciation for the feeling of nostalgia, and for the history of something. The most touching part, for me, of the history of a building or society or vehicle or group is its end; I’m always fascinated by how things come to an end, why they come to an end. In doing research for my term paper about public transit this semester, for example, one of the most touching anecdotes I came across was about the night the last trolley car ran in Miami. In the late 1920s, a lonely trolley car rumbled to the car barn as some officials from the transit agency were sitting inside, experiencing the last ride. One of them played his harmonica, lending an overdramatic and picturesque tone to the last night of active trolley service in Miami.

I don’t know why these things fascinate me, but they do. Maybe I’ll find out someday.


People’s Fears of One Another / College Acquaintances

I’ve made a boatload of acquaintances throughout this first semester in college. I’ve also learned the

A shot of my ENC1101 class, bright and early at 9am!

I had the privilege of going to the Everglades this semester
with a group of Biology and Natural Science students.
It was a fantastic and confidence-instilling experience
that was made better by the people I went with. 

Right after the Swamp Walk, it was time to
have lunch at the Grove, of course!
Two colleagues of mine engaging in serious discussion.

I also had the opportunity of attending a tour of Coconut Grove
hosted by (unbeknownst to me) famed historian, Dr. Paul
George (who was also my history teacher for the fall semester).
Here’s a shot featuring me and some of my pals during the tour!

I’d call this a “transit picture”, just because it describes
the day-to-day atmosphere of the Honors Lounge so well
(the Honors Lounge is a computer lab, conference room and
sitting area reserved for us Honors College students). 

Another one of my classmates as we slouch around
waiting for our professor to arrive.

On one of the last days of the semester, I was invited to a
lunch in Downtown with some of my colleagues!
Being the bohemian teenagers we are, we took the Metromover
(Downtown Miam’s light rail system) to our destination.

 value of the word “acquaintances”, particularly when it’s contrasted with the word “friends”. While I became friendly with the idea of separating the two terms as far back as when I left high school and felt the wrath of falling out of touch with many people I’d considered to be pals, I’ve really come to terms with it now that a semester of college has transpired and now that I’ve gotten the chance to engage in social interactions which have made the distinction undeniable.

From a logical perspective, people strike friendships based on common interests. Two people that like or do the same things are more likely to strike up a relationship than two people who don’t. The same perspective typically applies to people bound by a common neighborhood or frequently visited location, such as a church or a classroom.

While such a perspective is correct, it fails to account for the fact that such commonalities do not lead to “friendships” but rather to “acquaintanceships”, if you will. Just because I am taking the same class as someone else, or the same bus route as someone else; just because I am sitting at the same table as someone else, or reading the same textbook as someone else does not mean that I am entitled to a long-standing friendship with that person. While it may become easier for me to break the ice with that person given our outstanding commonality, it will not be any less difficult to take the relationship farther.

I feel as though a critic of such a train of thought would immediately call the perspective pessimistic. They’d likely argue that commonalities like the ones described are indeed the way to friendships; that exploiting the activities or circumstances that bring one together with others is precisely the best way to make relationships that will “last a lifetime” (placed in quotes because of the airy, feel-good nature of that phrase).

But there’s a caveat to such an attitude that bears discussion more often than not, and that caveat has been immortalized in modern psychology by something called “the Dunbar number”. In the early 90s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships, a figure above which rules commanding the relationships (and making it less than stable) must be set if stability is to be retained. Dunbar explains that a stable social relationship is different from situations like knowing who someone is but not having active social contact with them (in which case the number might be much higher because the “relationship” becomes just an element of accumulated knowledge and would become dependent on long-term memory size).

In an “Age of Information” where “everything is on the Internet” (according to rapper Lil B), social networks like Facebook who tug at people’s notions of social approval and fame by way of constantly suggesting friends and always reminding you to give birthday gifts to people have also created a difficult set of expectations for people who take pride in their social relationships, like me.

For one, it creates the sense that each and every acquaintance one makes is a friendship waiting to bloom. In other words, every person with whom there is a commonality is a person with whom there must also be a serious attempt made to exact a serious and sustainable relationship. While it sounds like an agenda that could only do more good than bad, it’s actually not, especially when exacerbated by the fact that a person like me is in a situation where meeting new people on a regular basis is the norm. As a college student, I’ve found myself entrenched in tens of different clubs and meetings and rooms with different people more often than not, and the thought of having a responsibility unto myself to try to be “friends” and not simply “acquaintances” with as many of them as possible genuinely tires me out.

Part of the reason why that’s the case is because not everyone takes as much pride in their social relationships as I think I do. There are people – and this has been a truth that’s been difficult to grasp – that do not even think about social expectations like the one I’m having trouble filling, be they a part of the “Age of Information” or not. There are people who are also in situations where they see new faces more often than not, but do not find themselves compelled to strike a relationship with them that goes farther than a “Hello”. In some cases, people even have trouble mustering up the courage or the respect to greet others!

I could analogize my dilemma to a naïve boy who goes out of his way to do something, deluded in his belief that someone will care if he accomplishes it. I see a picture, for instance, of a schoolboy aligning all the chairs in the lunchroom because the teacher told one malfeasant punk to scoot his chair under the table. The boy will have fomented an immutable resolve to ensure the chairs are in order, only to meet a half-hearted “Good job, Johnny!” exclamation from his teacher, who wouldn’t dare pass up the opportunity to reward Johnny for work that is otherwise unnecessary and dumb.

I’ve felt like this on occasions where I lent unnecessary weight to my social relationships … and because of it, I’ve found myself saying “Hello” and not being greeted back on more occasions than I’d care to account for. I’ve found myself honoring commitments when the other person wasn’t really planning on doing so. I’ve found myself sending text messages asking about the other person’s doings and whereabouts, in vain. And though I would typically blame an errant world for all this, I now understand what’s going on.

The tiredness I sometimes feel when my own personality compels me to be a part of as many peoples’ lives as possible is likely the one that other, more rationally-thinking people are righteously trying to avoid. Just like the automobiles of the 21st century, they’re doing their best to be efficient human beings, and as a part of that envelope they’ve decided to very carefully manage their social relationships. They’ve decided to very carefully pick and choose who to add to their growing Dunbar number.

Yet one unsettling thought remains. I don’t think that people make decisions to be so discriminant based solely on concerns of mental efficiency. I think the decisions can also be attributed to fear. Fear of developing friendships with others that – as a result of constantly changing living and working and studying arrangements – might fall by the wayside and end up hurting them in the long-run because of it. I’m not alone in this train of thought – at least two people that I’ve met (initially “acquaintances” but currently on an upward trend) have commented on the same thing.

Truth be told, that’s a pretty good thing to do. It makes me think, hey, I’m only nineteen; if I try to add a lot of people now, I’ll be out of room before I even start my professional career! Whether avoiding heartbreak or being as efficient as a Prius is the motivation, this agenda of managing your number appropriately isn’t so bad. It just takes someone like me some getting used to.

In Response to Miami Gardens Police Harassing the 207 Quickstop

This article is in response to the Miami Herald investigation published here. The story is continually updating; this response was composed shortly after the story first broke.  

The Coconut Grove Metrorail Station.
It’s clear that racism still holds a presence in today’s society, albeit in a different form than it was fifty or so years ago. Last week, I was sitting down on a bench at a Metrorail station when I overheard an argument going on between a Hispanic-looking man and a black security officer who wasn’t letting him through to the trains because he did not have enough credit on his EASY Card. The Hispanic man did notice, however, how the same security officer let another older woman through (whose ethnicity I can’t recall) even though she didn’t have credit on her EASY Card. Visibly upset, the Hispanic man stormed off with his female accompaniment, who was urging him to let the thing go with a combination of body language and spoken words. The man and his woman drew increasingly closer to the bench I was sitting at, meaning I heard it loud and clear when he said, in Spanish, that that security guard was a motherfucking nigger and that had he been black, she likely would’ve let him enter the station.

The security guard won’t be told to sit in the back of the bus when she goes home, nor will she have to endure going to a separate bathroom nor use a separate water fountain when she’s out and about. But she’ll likely endure the often unspoken contempt that people of other ethnicities may have for her and other people like her.

Some, if not all of this energy, likely fuels the encroachment Miami Gardens police have made upon Alex Saleh’s 207 Quickstop convenience store. I’d be hard-pressed to find out that the police officers working the store and working Miami Gardens at large don’t ever find themselves sharing the thought that Miami Gardens is as crime-ridden because of its black population. Certainly, any white or Hispanic police officer (maybe even the black officers) must think this at some point. 

MGPD causing a ruckus at the Quickstop.
I’m not saying they do. This is my opinion.

Add to that the fact that Miami Gardens has indeed been crime ridden for so long (since its incorporation 10 years ago) and you’ve got a formula for police over-activity.

Granted, the unrelenting arrests of Quickstop clerk Earl Sampson fail to stand the test of any reason. There’s a difference between being quick to suspect the business of a man of any race walking around dark neighborhood streets at odd evening hours versus arresting the same man over and over again while he’s obviously just doing his job. 

If surface reasoning can’t explain something, something deeper must be gnawing at the hearts of the people involved, making them into monsters. If that irate man at the Metrorail station was quick to dismiss the security officer as a black bitch, imagine what a police officer enforcing a zero-tolerance policy is capable of given similar sentiments. The clear breach of common sense that is evident in the occurrences inside Alex Saleh’s Quickstop is, quite literally, the sum of all fears. A still prejudiced police force being tasked with turning a crime-ridden and “blacks-filled”city around is immaturely handling a sensitive situation. Since they are the police force, though, it’s as if there’s no alternative.

Save for Alex Saleh. This wise, wise man now has the power to give an entire police department a run for its money and its prejudice. Those videos of evident police harassment, coupled with formally documented anecdotes of the same, will be the end-all be-all of the MGPD or, so help me, I’ll call foul on the entire institution that is American democracy. I sympathize with the MGPD’s efforts in attempting to turn the Gardens around, but the Quickstop is an example of inefficient operations. Alex Saleh, licensed to carry a firearm, seems to have the crime situation at the Quickstop – if even existent – under control.

He should cover up the zero-tolerance sign that the MGPD forced him to install on the back of the store with a sign that reads “Days Since Police Harassment: 0”. The day he has to change the count is the day that change will come to Miami Gardens.

Quickstop employee Earl Sampson.

One of the sources cited in the article even said it: zero-tolerance policies work only if the area police force is trustworthy. Given their actions, the MGPD could hardly be considered trustworthy or righteous. 

I not only support Saleh’s push for a civil rights lawsuit, but also celebrate his pure intellect: installing those cameras was the best thing he could have ever done. You can’t get any less partial, less predicted and less biased than a surveillance camera. I also tip my hat to the Miami Herald for their impressive journalistic work. May be the logic of this world be tipped in Saleh’s favor.
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