Is Loitering Permitted?

Most of us have seen, at one time or another, a sign prominently posted, “No loitering!” It’s not as common as it was years ago. In some locales loitering may be prohibited by a local ordinance, or have the full force of the law accompanied by a monetary fine, free ride to the edge of town, or a complimentary night’s lodging in the local hoosegow. Webster defines loitering as, “to linger in an aimless way, spending time idly, without purpose.” German philosopher Von Goethe captured the essence of it, “Lose the day loitering, twill be the same tomorrow, and the rest more dilatory.”

Many moons ago, in the pre-Walgreen and chain pharmacy era, the local drug store was the hub for shoppers in a Westside Indianapolis neighborhood. It was one frequented by your’s truly. It was owned and operated by a part-time pharmacist and full-time curmudgeon and grouch. He prided himself in offering an array of sundry items, magazines and comic books, augmented by a full service soda shop. He was no fan of neighborhood kids.

A “No Loitering” sign was conspicuously displayed above the magazines and comic books, and emblazoned on the wall of the soda shop. Those words, at the time, were beyond your’s truly vocabulary. After a brief “family huddle,” it was discovered that it meant: “Kids don’t read the magazines or comic books, and you’d better buy something when you sit on a stool at the soda fountain.” First brush with being an “undesirable.”

Back then, and to a degree contemporarily, anti-loitering was designed to discourage and reduce the number of “undesirable” people and the indolent from just “hanging around” places of commerce, and to protect private and public interests from beggars, panhandlers or worse. The subjects of such disdain may identify themselves as drifters, or in current vernacular, “just chillin.” A Nineteenth Century term, albeit not an endearing one, was a “lay-about.“ It sounds self-explanatory, “a loafer, bum or lazy; reluctant to move.” Ouch!

The High Court’s rulings on loitering laws and ordinances have eroded the “city fathers” ability to take aim at loitering, by ruling that, for example, Chicago’s and Orlando’s ordinances were deemed far too vague, granting too much sweeping latitude for police power. Some believe such laws abridge individual’s constitutional right to assemble. Their co-belligerents the ACLU, agreed to “loiter” with them in court. Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dramatically reduced non-violent crime, by zero tolerance for “pan handling” and loitering.

More debilitating and pervasive than any physical, momentary, or serial loitering, is that of internal or “spiritual loitering.” One can be gainfully employed and highly compensated, yet experience a life devoid of purpose or meaning. Just marking time. Loitering doesn’t occur only on a street corner or a park bench. In fact some of us have “loitered in prayer” as we grovel for words, catering to our own interest, or to titillate the ears of other congregates, with our minds fixed on ignoble things. Rick Warren’s, 2002, unparalleled best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, hinges on the premise that we need to know why we occupy space on planet earth. Is it just to make a living? Send the offspring to the “best college?” Keep up with the Joneses? Thrive on Facebook? Or is there more on this revolving orb?

Not everyone’s life parallels that of swimmer Michael Phelps, the storied, gold medal record swimmer, or legendary NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning. Perhaps it could be as a volunteer making a difference with Special Olympics, investing in the lives of those “going for the gold” at a different level. A much needed counselor at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, guiding women away from abortion. Bill Gates, and the late Steve Jobs, contributed in a global fashion that will outlive them. Not exactly loitering. Few of us will cast a shadow of that proportion. We can make a difference in our sphere of influence.

Nineteenth Century poet, novelist, playwright and statesman, Frenchman, Victor Hugo, was quoted, “To rove about, musing, that is to say loitering, is, for a philosopher, a good way to spend life.” Hugo, in fact, bolsters the contention that “loitering” is not merely a physical act, or the absence of action, but can occur in our mind. One may confine one’s self to a labor of love that beckons a life of relentless research, or rigorous pursuit of an idea that transforms a field of endeavor, changing the world, as did Pasteur, Salk, Booker T. Washington, or pioneering pediatric neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Perhaps as a teacher, mentor, an incorruptible public servant, or prayer partner that leaves an indelible mark on a solitary life.

Few of us possess the high lyrical talent or prolific pen of a Longfellow, T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost. However, that shouldn’t hobble our pursuit of impacting our sphere of influence, using our God-given talents. Obduracy isn’t a divine gift. Optically, there’s a panoply of challenges that face we mere mortals. It may demand a conscious, determined stance to rebuff the insubstantial mirage of personal peace and affluence. Loitering isn’t an option. Few things would be more grievous than to have etched on our headstone than, “He(She) Loitered through Life.” That would be a tragic squandering of the numerable days we’ve been granted. How will you spend them? What do you think?

Mike Pyatt is a Natrona County resident. His email is roderickstj@yahoo.com

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