I’m standing across the street from one of our favorite coffeeshops. It’s closed, like everything. The now-empty chairs that Laura and I have spent countless hours sipping americanos. In those very chairs, we’d have work meetings, dream dreams, and loiter away many mornings perfectly spent. I see posted for what feels like the first time “NO SOLICITING. NO LOITERING.” I’m suddenly struck with the thought — had we been breaking the rules this whole time? Sure, we bought the americanos but how long did that small economic act absolve us from descending into the forbidden realm of loitering? Is it immediately after you finish your coffee? Two hours after? Three hours?
Loitering implies a lack of economic exchange. You aren’t spending money. How suspicious. You must be loitering.
I remember our trip to Morocco. That was the trip my normally hardy boots finally lost their swagger. The soles clapped behind me as I walked, falling off after hours of winding around the labyrinth of the Fez Medina. While waiting for a repair from a local cobbler, Laura and I sat outside at a nearby café and ordered mint tea. We sat and watched the mule carrying countless cases of Coca Cola meander by, the man in a frayed white smock, stained every inch, carrying half a cow over his shoulder, and the woman lugging an overflowing hand stitched bag filled with every vibrant color of leather baby shoes.
The table next to us was vacant until an old man sat down, filled his pipe, and waited. The waiter came out, offered the man a drink, which he declined, and then asked the man if he’d like a light. The man obliged and the waiter disappeared inside.
The old man smoked his pipe next to us and took out a loaf of flatbread wrapped in a greasy brown paper. We made eye contact, I nodded, and he offered us a chunk of his bread he’d torn off.
Then back to his pipe.
Ten minutes went by as the three of us sat silently watching the world go by. The light faded in the impossibly narrow streets. It became the time of day everything and everyone gets prettier. The call to prayer boomed from a nearby loud-speaker. The city paused. After the prayer had passed, the man stood up, waved to the waiter who nodded back, and left.
I’ve caught myself a few times during this quarantine filling up an online shopping cart only to close the tab once I get to the checkout screen. We’re all so conditioned to be consumers, as if the mere act of existing costs at least the price of a coffee, lest you wear the Scarlet L of a Loiterer. We have a distinctly American trait that tells us not spending money negates our reason to be.
It’s weirdly uncomfortable right now, staring into the oncoming storm as this economic Mack truck comes to a screeching and abrupt halt. For many who are now just inconvenienced by this virus, there’s an anxious waiting game. Yet it seems inevitable that a tremendous amount of hardship is ahead. For the first time we’re all being asked to do something that has always been forbidden, so forbidden that it’s posted everywhere. NO LOITERING. My hope is that instead of all becoming tech-addicted shells of ourselves, we’re able to reclaim our natural loitering ability. To loiter, laze, lounge, dawdle, saunter, meander, mosey, or even gosh dang dillydally.
Even if we’re just loitering at our own window, holding a cup of coffee that’s now gone cold watching the world turn to spring and doing our best to hold a pleasant thought. Standing outside this coffeeshop now, I can’t shake the thought that my time is absolutely my own. For the first time, I don’t have to buy to exist.
So loiter on. We can’t watch the comings and goings of society. That’s shutdown. But springtime isn’t. The blossoms on the trees continue on as if they’re completely unaware they’re sheltering in place.
You aren’t purely a function of your income and expenses– who we all become when loitering is just as essential.