Outside the little office that I work in, there’s an accordion man who turns up with unerring regularity and sits on a box. He straps on his accordion and he plays in the hope of garnering some spare change from the people who shuffle past.
He drives me mad. For a long list of reasons.
Firstly, he tends to play the same stuff over and over. He knows lots of different tunes but, whatever he’s in the mood for on that day, he’ll just keep playing it.
He tends to favour variations of a series of movie themes like ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’ and ‘Mission Impossible’. His audience are all passers-by (except me) so nobody ever really notices this incessant repetition (except me).
Then there’s the customisation job he has done on his accordion. He’s duct-taped a Melodica down the side of the keyboard and attached a pipe to the mouthpiece so he can accompany himself while accordioning. It’s completely unnerving.
Also he only tends to come on the nice days. Days when I would like to have the window open. I guess it’s hard to play the accordion in the rain. The squeezey-parts must get all soggy and_ I Don’t Care! I have to close my window whenever he turns up because I can’t hear myself think and then I have to stew in my little room and I can still hear him and… and…
Finally he stays far too long. If he came and did this for a couple of hours and then moved elsewhere, I wouldn’t mind so much. But it must be lucrative outside my window. There must be some seriously deep-pocketed types sidling past out there because he stays and stays… and stays.
I hate him.
From my distance of about 50 yards, from my first-floor-looking-down vantage point, I hate him. I hate to hear him coming and the first dreadful notes of his hashed-together crap instrument. I hate that I have to slam my window shut and turn my radio off because I can’t abide hearing two things playing at once. It’s a deep personal hatred that I feel for this man.
But here’s the thing…
At one o’clock every day, I go out of my office and I go across to the supermarket for a roll to bring back and eat at my desk. On the way, I have to walk past the Accordion Man. I always say ‘hello’ and he always stops his playing and says ‘hello’ back. I see him around town with an elderly guy who I guess is his Dad. They look like they have it tough-enough. He has a nice warm smile and a nice manner and he takes whatever abuse is ladled out at him and never seems to bother with giving any back.
He’s all right, really. He’s okay.
Is this just me, this split personality behaviour I exhibit? Perhaps it is but I don’t think so. I think we all operate on a very basic level with people who we encounter right up close. I think we can subliminally see the pulse in their neck and hear the blood rushing around in their veins. We can feel their very life and their very humanity and, because of this, we can appreciate them better as the fellow human beings that they are and then deal with them accordingly.
Add a little distance – a very little distance – and those subtle signs that someone is a real person become diluted and quickly lost. Even at a remove of a mere fifty yards, a person can go from being a flesh and blood lad with troubles of his own to a racket-making nuisance and an utter blight on the landscape.
Then go back up close again and, almost immediately, the fellow-human starts to reappear.
I don’t want to turn this into a sermon or anything. It just strikes me that this is possibly why Twitter and Facebook and such places can be so very cruel sometimes. That short distance at which any subliminal apprehension of another person’s humanity is possible is far-exceeded on there. Is it any wonder, then, that we sometimes attack each other as bits of typeface on a screen rather than the breathing troubled sacks of flesh and blood that we actually are?
All we can do is try to keep sight of it. If some series of words or images are driving you mad on your computer, try to remember that the person who put them there will most likely feel the sting of the whiplash you are planning to send their way.
I’d like to say I’ve got it sussed but I don’t. If tomorrow is sunny, the Accordion Man will be there again and I’ll be cursing him again.
But I’ll try not to.
All I can do is keep trying.