Published on April 28th, 2017 | by Randy Weeks0
View From the Balcony
My college music history professor, Dr. James Downey, once proclaimed, “The art of conversation is dead!” For some unexplained reason I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. Even at the age of 22 something inside me knew that if Dr. Downey were right, the world would have lost something precious and priceless. But back then I didn’t believe that the art of conversation was dead. I don’t believe it is now, either.
As far as I’m concerned, the Southwest corner of The Balcony above City Grocery is the best seat on The Square. There’s a shot glass of judgment and a barrel full of love there. No matter the weather or my state of mind, I always feel at home there. And, as we all know, there’s no place like home.
Sometimes I like to sit in the Southwest corner of The Balcony, sip on a greyhound, smoke a pipe, and read a good book. I like to watch people, too. Most of all, I like to connect with friends through dialogue, talking and listening as good comrades do, and perhaps meet a new friend or two. The Balcony is a perfect crucible for all that to blossom.
Genuine verbal communication is suffering terribly at the hands of technology. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen folks sit down, whip out their cell phones, and start texting or twittering ninety to nothing. Geez, Louise! Some of my friends and I have already banned Googling on The Balcony. Maybe we should outlaw cell phones too!
One of the wonderful things about The Balcony is that you never know who’ll be there. On any given night there could be visitors from France or South Africa or Japan sitting next to you. You might share a quiet tête-à-têtes with a well-known actor, musician, writer, artist, or artisan. As the night progresses and the dead soldiers pile up, your conversation might become a bit bawdy, as the Great Raconteur of the evening regales all others with their grand tales of adventure.
Without any effort you’ll overhear people talking about most anything—vacations, woes at work, art, literature, babies, love interests—you’ll pretty much hear it all. Eavesdropping on The Balcony is not necessary. You’re in such close quarters up there that just about everyone there knows what you’re saying. Despite that, Balcony Dwellers respect others’ space and try to turn a deaf ear—most of the time.
When I can stay up late enough I get to watch the shift in demographics on The Balcony. Geezers head home between 7 & 9, and then hoards of students take over. I’ve been delighted at the number of students I’ve talked with on The Balcony who are capable of engaging in deep dialogue. That gives me hope for the future of conversation and diplomacy.
The interesting and intriguing things don’t stop at The Balcony’s railings, though. There’s a lot that happens on the streets and sidewalks below. From my crow’s nest I can see about three-quarters of The Square. Very little within eye-shot of The Balcony gets missed. You can see and hear just about everything that takes place on the sidewalks of Oxford Town—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here’s the deal. Most of The Balcony Dwellers are real in that they aren’t trying to be someone they’re not. The pretense level is 87.4% less than at any other place in Oxford. There’s a barrel of love and only a teaspoon of judgment up there. If you’re new, you’re welcomed. If you’ve been there for a while, you’re family. And if you get too big for your britches, somebody’s going to call you out on it and somewhere down the road you’re going to thank them for having done so.
There’s no shortage of subject matter for this column. I’ll be writing of the plethora of experiences that occur both on and off The Balcony. If you’re on The Balcony or in sight of it and you get the feeling that somebody’s watching you, that’d most likely be me. But don’t worry. I always change the names to protect the innocent and the guilty alike.
Thanks to Newt Rayburn and Nature Humphries of The Local Voice for the chance to give life to one of my ideas, and to John Currence, owner of The Balcony, for the “go-ahead.”
I hereby by boldly declare that the art of conversation is not yet dead. On The Balcony above City Grocery, the art of conversation is very much alive and well.