Thursday’s Tribune column: “On pedestrians and human nature.”


Now I remember why this reminder wasn’t previously issued: My Tribune column of Thursday, July 16 has yet to be archived on-line. This should constitute an acceptable rationale to reprint it here in its entirety.

On pedestrians and human nature.

One of these days, there’ll be time for recounting H.L. Mencken’s bathtub hoax. Until then, there are two items of unfinished business for consideration.

Just last week, I suggested that it is safer to jog down a ten-foot-wide medieval hilltop street in Pamplona, Spain, alongside massive horned fighting bulls and three or four thousand of your closest friends, than it is to drive an automobile through New Albany’s rutted, unkempt streets.

Within hours, a native Spaniard was gored during the daily run with the bulls and subsequently died, the fifteenth such fatality since San Fermin’s inception in 1911.

Less than 24 hours later, I brought my bicycle to an abrupt, sliding halt to avoid hitting an oblivious, shirtless pedestrian who never took his eyes off the ground before meandering into my path. My elderly two-wheeled conveyance comes equipped with a bell, and I dinged it early and often before applying the brakes.

The non-mechanized dullard flipped me off as he shuffled to the curb, leaving me cognizant of my error in blaming the city’s routine roadway chaos solely only on those drivers who steer their SUVs with their knees while devouring tacos and watching Transformer 18 on the DVD. It is increasingly obvious that in New Albany, the term “street person” takes on shadings that extend beyond homelessness, which is regrettable enough.

A New Albanian street person is one who ostensibly lives indoors, but spends much of life, night and day, ambulatory or unconscious, in the middle of the closest available street – piloting an errant skateboard, engaging in car repairs, talking on a cell phone, smoking a pack of cigarettes, throwing a football, or gazing at the sky. The list is uniformly depressing, and seldom permits through traffic.

Daily, we are offered the novel and plainly hazardous spectacle of drivers too busy multi-tasking to bother driving, barreling down corroded streets that our shambolic city council refuses to pave, toward dazed pedestrians too busy ambling along non-existent center lines to bother noticing.

In my opinion, a fine morning’s run with the bulls would cure the lot of them, although it just as easily might have the opposite effect and scare the fight out of the bulls.

Speaking of stage fright, two weeks ago I learned the hard way not to trust Wikipedia. To paraphrase the immortal words spoken by WKRP’s Arthur Carlson: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly — and that the Scribner brothers came from Albany, New York.

Not so. Their journey took them from the vicinity of the Big Apple to subsequent immortality as founding paragons of New Albanian civic virtue. There aren’t enough pigeons on Pearl Street to sully that sort of achievement, even if we’ve yet to erect the requisite statuary to serve as target for the pigeons’ own freedom to screech.

Suitably contrite, I duly concede my error. However, the heretic in me cowers only briefly even at the risk of another lashing. My respect for history’s lessons is genuine and sincere, but as a contrarian, I’m nonetheless obliged to ask why the Scribner brothers didn’t call this place New Brooklyn, New Manhattan or New Harlem?

Were they intent on embarrassing future generations of sassy commentators like me?

Was Joel Scribner slyly acknowledging his mistress’ home address in Albany?

Or did he lose the naming rights to the future city in a card game somewhere on a grimy flat boat drifting down the Monongahela?


Ouch … okay — put away the whip, will you?

Evidently I’m prone to that most controversial of realms, satire, the bane of literal-minded Americans everywhere. Did you know that in New Albany, satire is so widely feared that there exists an ordinance prohibiting it?

Satire within earshot of a church building or governmental toilet is strictly forbidden. It is the only ordinance on record known to have been consistently enforced within the city limits, penalized by irrevocable exile to Birdseye or placing the satirist in nickel and dime store stocks at the whim of the magistrate’s, and …


Hey – those stung.

Here’s the point. Historical accuracy is marvelous but forever elusive. We should laugh along with history more often. Rote names and dates mean less than the gist of the story, and history itself ideally is a well- and entertainingly-told story, not a canonical scroll to be venerated. We’ve too many of them already.

Diligent contemporary scholarship into the life, times and private proclivities of historical figures like Thomas Jefferson should be a counterweight, gently suggesting reassessment and a recognition borne of tolerance that our forbearers were living, breathing people no different than us. Some were brilliant, and some unspeakably dull. So it goes.

Racier old-timers may have been unafraid to take a healthy leer up an accidentally raised skirt, to wager carelessly on the ponies, or to drink long and hard from the bottle of corn whisky they’d hidden from the prying eyes of the prevailing protectors of propriety – then wander into the bumpy brick street to panic a delivery wagon.

I’m confident that one or more of New Albany’s founders periodically let loose with giggly bursts of unrepentant flatulence, even during the Sunday worship service. Eons may pass, but men are always like that, aren’t they?

It doesn’t mean these people weren’t capable of great and memorable achievements, just that they were real people. To me, that’s enough.

And you?