Last night, well past midnight, I was awakened by what I took to be the sound of gunfire; five or six sharp cracks in quick succession. Startled awake I raised my head and listened for some result—screams, angry voices, sirens racing to the scene. All I discerned were perhaps some muffled laughs, and then the silence of the night closed around me again.

So this is life in the city, I thought. Gangs, guns in the hands of dangerous people, disorder and peril. But upon rising this morning I replayed the incident of the previous evening and recalled that in the three years I lived in the country, there was rarely a day that did not include the sound of gunfire, either in the distance or frighteningly close by. Random bangs that sounded like shotguns, the sharp crack of handguns, or the rapid fire of automatic weapons, drilling bullets into otherwise still Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Who knows, who can tell if these firearms were in the hands of responsible or irresponsible people? Why did I never worry that a crime was probably being committed, that someone was being gunned down? What is the difference, really, between hearing weapons fired in the country and in the city?

There is more noise in general in the city; it’s more traffic, mostly. And more light. Streetlights filter in through the still curtainless windows of my small apartment. There are way more streetlights than I consider necessary. You almost have to look up to see that it is night in the city, when only the sky is dark. Everything else is illuminated well enough to read fine print. In the country, night is dark. You can tell when the moon is full, or close to it, when you step out, without looking up to see it. The light fills the ambient darkness. You know why people in times past worshiped the moonlight, or spoke of its spiritual qualities, by the way its nearly physical presence envelops you. It would be nice if urban planners could design streetlights that dimmed in proportion to how much moonlight was available, so city dwellers could experience it.

I have smiled at, said hello to, or been ignored by more people in the past week than in the entire last three years. They are just there. I feel like Gomer Pyle, like someone who clearly does not belong, but wants to be accepted, putting my friendly face out there in an environment that does not always reward a forthcoming attitude. It’s hard to say if people in the country are kinder or more friendly; certainly that’s the stereotype, but there are so few instances to test the hypothesis that the idea must remain anecdotal at best. All I know is that wherever I am, I regard most people as pretty much the same; kindhearted and selfish by turns, and unpredictable once you put a gun in their hands.

 

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