This morning, across from the Coffee Plant (my favorite downtown Portland coffee dive), I watched a street person conducting the activities of an ATM from the front patio of a tall steel and glass bank building. He was standing about 15 feet back, waving and pointing his hands and fingers with wild precision at the flashy, extra large ATM screen–think Leonard Berstein or Tom Cruise at his holographic interface in Minority Report. He looked about mid-30’s, 6 feetish (tall, not number of metatarsal foundations), in dirty layers and knit cap, and almost serene. He was as good as any performance artist (and could have been one). The few people passing in and out of the building didn’t visibly pay him much attention. I’m not sure what would have happened if anyone else tried to use the ATM–I guess they’d have to get in line.

I can’t project what may have been on his mind, what he may have been seeing; if he was just drawing neon squiggles in the air or absorbed in bending the ATM to his will–similar to what I did as a kid standing at the edge of the Pacific surf, commanding the waves to stop at my feet. Knowing that I’d positioned myself for almost certain success didn’t stop the guilty rush of power I felt when the mighty ocean, when gravity itself, succumbed to my will. There was always the chance that a big ignorant wave would piggyback on another and wash over my feet and suck my toes into the sand, and I’d have to teach it a lesson by whipping the next five or so waves into submission (literally, if a big sea onion was handy). Then I’d take off with my luck intact before a big one came along to dethrone me or otherwise kick my ass. (I’ve seen all my kids exercise the same power trip, arm outstretched and palm out, shouting “stop, I command youuuu” and then race off giggling when the ocean changed the rules.)

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