At night now in Fresno or in your city they might gather beneath the glow of street-lamps, lurking around its penumbral cone of light. Packs of teenagers. Black kids. Brown kids. White kids. Brawny boys in baggy clothes, hats and team jerseys; pale, inked kids wearing white wife-beaters; girls in skinny jeans, high-heels and higher hair; or a population of bearded men smiling through meth-snaggled teeth, shuffling burnouts and tweakers with face tattoos, gang bangers with bulldog paws or red lips painted permanently on their necks; or maybe it’s those ubiquitous kids at a suburban mall wearing Polo shirts and skinny jeans, high-top sneakers, and puffy Tommy Hilfiger jackets and they’re loitering around Jamba Juice or the movie theater, around your neighborhood school, or outside your business every night. These are the loiterers, the idle enemies of consumption and purpose. These are the targets of subjective warfare.
This essay by Steven Church from The Rumpus hit a number of buttons with me. First, his definition (or redefinition) of loitering as "an idea...as undefined, abstract, and subjective as happiness or suffering" had never occurred to me before, but made perfect sense.
To do nothing now in the name of loitering is also to repurpose in the name of purposelessness an otherwise purposed space. And we are surrounded by purposed spaces.
As a city dweller I see this all the time, and like Church it sometimes gives me a great sense of reclamation, of the triumph of humanity and self-determination over the authoritarian voices of municipal government and corporate America, but sometimes, like when teenagers dribble their basketball and shoot them at streetlamps outside our window, it gives me a vague feeling that spans from annoyance to dread.
One of the beautiful things about "On Loitering," though, is that Church doesn't choose sides. But he does (fairly) frame loitering laws as legislative crutches governments and police can use when they don't really know what law someone - whether a loafing teenager or an Occupy protester of Martin Luther King - is breaking.
Legislating loitering is like legislating nothingness.
That last line there is what perhaps sticks with me the most after reading the essay - firm, moderately existential indictment of imposing rule over human nature, and an acknowledgement - even a defense - of that void we all sense absent purpose.