Dear Journal: People Watching

2115-file-image-of-people-shopping-at-targetDear Journal,

Weekends at work are always interesting because so many people who don’t shop during the week show up in droves on Saturday or Sunday and make the time go faster with their questions. Besides, it gives me time and opportunity to people watch, the clear highlight to most of my days.

Today, for instance, I saw a family of four over by the cracker aisle. Both kids were riding in a cart that was also overflowing with pillows, food, and various other items. The father was pushing, but he had this harried look on his face, like this wasn’t his idea of a fun Saturday afternoon. Ahead of the cart the mother was comparing brands of crackers, and I couldn’t help comparing them to my own family. I wondered if others see me the same way I saw that father.

Then there was the man muttering to himself as he passed by Shoes. He had these thick glasses on, and even though I said hi to him as I passed he didn’t acknowledge me in any way. I wondered how he got to the store, and how he was going to get back home. Perhaps he was just preoccupied in that moment, or maybe it was something more, but it wasn’t my place to figure it out right then. He wandered off through Bedding and disappeared from sight, still talking under his breath.

And the couple who were fighting but were trying to hide it, but something about their body language defied the subterfuge. The tilt of her head, his standoffish gaze, and the silence that punctuated their passage while she picked up avocados and he pretended to check his phone. They looked like they belonged together, too, with her haughty demeanor perfectly matched to his “who cares?” attitude. In my mind I wished them a long life together with many such outings in their future.

I guess it’s just interesting to me to see these people existing out in the wild, and not just in the pages of some book, or in my own imagination. That’s where it’s at for a novelist, honestly. That’s where I get the impetus for so many of my characters, and in one of my books a long time from now I might even put that in the dedication page. “To all those people I watched at one time or another: thank you.”



The Terminal

Schiphol Gate D, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsThe terminal is huge. I should know. I’ve been wandering around it for the past hour, people watching. You’ve done it before. Don’t pretend you haven’t. It’s easy. Just sit down in a spot and pretend to be doing something else. Periodically check your watch, or study your fingernails, or even put on your sunglasses and pretend to be asleep. Then just listen to what’s going on around you. You’d be surprised at what you’re privy to when people don’t know you’re watching or listening to them.

But finding a spot to stop is tricky, because terminals work in cycles, just like anywhere else. Planes aren’t always taking off or arriving, but when they do either of these two things mad rushes ensue at different parts of the vast terminal. There are people running late who are dodging others left and right to try and make it to their gate. There are people who are hurrying to line up because they know how long it takes to board the airplane and they want to be able to relax in their seats as soon as possible. There are people who are waiting for others to get off the plane so they can embrace and appreciate a closeness that has been absent as long as they have been separated.

So I stop at Gate D44 because it’s not crowded with people in line for a flight or with people waiting to greet those disembarking from a flight. In fact, only two small groups of people are in the chairs servicing the gate. I glance briefly at the board and see that the next flight to Stockholm leaves from this gate in three hours. I sit down. I’m not going to Stockholm but I’m interested to see who is. This is the glory of watching and listening to strangers. I put on my sunglasses and lean back in my chair. I am directly across from the nearest small group of passengers, three people who somewhat resemble each other.

“I wish we didn’t have to get here so early,” the girl with blonde hair says. She is probably 15 years old, and already bored with the grand adventure. She is wearing a white t-shirt and short shorts. She pops her gum and I am reminded of when I used to pop my gum. Continue reading “The Terminal”

@ 30th Street Station

Amtrak30thStreetStationInterior2007An old homeless man is screaming at me. He is as drunk as the day is long, and I wonder where he procured alcohol from. Did someone hand over some of their hard earned money knowing what he would do with it? Is it possible he was holding up one of those “Will Work For Food” signs that seemed so popular in the ’90s and suckered in some bystanders, thinking he would actually work for them or that he actually wanted food? And he’s yelling at me in some language I am not familiar with as I stand in line to get tickets for the next train to New Jersey. I don’t even want to go to New Jersey, the land of a thousand sewers and of the Holland Tunnel, or at least a part of that illustrious tunnel. I would really rather go home and go to sleep but I know she’s waiting for me in Secaucus, in the Radisson Hotel where they put mints on the pillow and the keys are really cards.

He finally moves on after I pay him no mind, that homeless man who is drunk on cheap wine, replaced by a woman who had been hidden by his bulk. She is his opposite, sporting a stylish tweed jacket with jewels for buttons and smelling of jasmine with a hint of honeysuckle. I only know those scents because my soap is made of the self-same, and I wonder if somehow the two of us, strangers until this moment, share the same soap. I also wonder what else we possibly share, and I am reminded that this is a small world after all, whether or not we’re on that creepy ride made so popular in the Magic Kingdom. We are six degrees separated from each other, but we probably share at least one Facebook friend. I don’t talk to her, though, as the sounds of the old man’s screams still echo in my ear.

And she’s wearing white pants, even though it’s after Labor Day, but they still suit her, fitting tightly to her body. I don’t stare too long, though, because I know she will notice. She seems like one of those women who notice those things, not like the millions who are oblivious to leering guys. Continue reading “@ 30th Street Station”

Tall No Foam Decaf Soy Latte Guy

Soy latte? Really?

“Tall no foam decaf soy latte with room for cream and sugar. Lots of it.”

I stand in line behind this idiot at Starbucks, making strange faces that might come off looking like sexual arousal for some odd reason, but that are really faces of disgust. I mean, seriously? If you’re going to buy a $5.00 cup of coffee, why not make it the best cup of coffee you can possibly have? I could make a solid cup of coffee at home in my Keurig for a fraction of the cost, so I’m sure this loser could too. But, wait. They don’t make soy latte k-cups. And for good reason too!

I grew up in the world of soy, so I know what I’m talking about. For imitation burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, and bacon, soy is a relatively good substitute (of course then again, how would I know as I’ve never had the real thing), and even for some types of ice cream (soy cream — yeah!), but for coffee? That’s one of those things like a wiener dog/ German shepherd mix that no one should ever let happen. Ever.

And this guy in front of me is one of those health freaks. You know the type, who always wear jogging gear or spandex, even if they’re not quite in shape enough yet to fit into the spandex comfortably. I’m one of the biggest proponents of working out (even though I hardly ever do it), but come on people! If you had to squeeze yourself into the outfit, it’s probably not the right size for you yet. Stick it back in your closet until you’ve reached your ideal weight, then celebrate by sliding it on nice and smoothly.

So, yeah, he has on these black spandex biking shorts that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. And I mean nothing. You’d expect him to be on a bike somewhere losing all hope of having kids with the way his package would have to be squished up (ouch!), but he’s here instead, getting a drink that will definitely not travel well in his bike cupholder. I’m trying not to look, too, because I don’t want the people behind me to judge my looking as me objectifying him. Definitely not.

He taps his fingernails (dude has long fingernails) on the counter as the barista takes time making the latte, and I wonder how well he would do in a group setting, where he would have to wait for someone else to finish before he could take his turn. He was probably a real whiny bitch in kindergarten. I shake my head as he finally gets his drink and heads to the opposite counter where he pours half the sugar container into his soy latte. What a waste! Then it’s my turn and I step up to order.

“Whatever the biggest size is you got, give me that one. I like that pot over there. I’ll take it. And I want the strongest coffee you have. Think black. Fill it to the brim. Oh, and do you take gift cards? And if you make the soy stuff in the same pot, I’ll take a different one. That stuff sucks.”

I say it loud enough for bicycle dude to hear me, and I swear I can almost hear small golf claps from the people in line behind me, but when I turn, they’re still looking as bored as I did before I walked in here.


@ The Library

As I sit here I am inundated with inane conversations from every side. And it’s the one time I can honestly feel invisible. As long as I keep my head down, and as long as I’m looking at my phone while I piece this post together, I will continue to be so. And the things I hear!

To my right are two what I could only describe as old friends having a chat about getting old. I have found out both of their ages, their medical conditions, and the fact that one of them is going to a party for a 107-year old relative next weekend. All in the space of five minutes.

Not to be outdone, the three fellas to my left have been having a loud discussion about females (and no, they didn’t call them females), obviously forgetting that they are in a public venue, that or just not caring. I think it might be the latter. No indoor voices in that bunch.

Then there’s the cafe behind me where a patron is drinking coffee and talking about being a quarter native American. I cannot see her, so I don’t know if she looks it, but from the reaction of the proprietor, I don’t think she does.

At the circulation desk, a man stands, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he waits for his book to be checked out. He sports a black backpack and a winter cap on his head. As he turns to walk out the door, the crew to my left draws him in. He is one of them. I would have never guessed. He seems so quiet, well-dressed, and he is a reader. You see, you never can tell. Perhaps they come from the same neighborhood, maybe a couple of blocks away, somewhere near the barber shop that also sells bean pies. Homemade.

He leaves the library with one of his buddies, and I can now hear him get louder. Peer pressure at work, or maybe it really is his personality too, when he is with others.

And I sit here still. Invisible.


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