The Art of People Watching


(originally published August 14, 2009 in the Free Ads Weekly, Florence, AL)

There are not many pleasures greater than watching people.  To some, people watching is a leisure pastime; to stalkers it’s their job.  It is absolutely fascinating viewing the endless variations of human beings, especially in a public setting.  If you haven’t tried this, or if your life is such that you just don’t have time to ogle folks, it would be well worth the effort to set aside some time, park yourself in a chair or bench where people congregate, and enjoy.  My favorite people watching place is the mall.  To add excitement and flair to this activity, I like to guess what people do for a living, or if in the company of others, what the group dynamic is.  I recently amused myself at a local shopping center (wait, that sounded wrong) while waiting for my family to buy the store out.  Here’s a sample of how it went:

Ok, here comes a young man, probably still in high school, although at my age if they don’t have wrinkles, they’re kids.  He’s wearing black pants, a brown shirt and a McDonald’s cap on his head.  Must work there, or he’s a real Big Mac fanatic.  Judging by the condition of his uniform, he must have just gotten off work.  Yeah, I can smell french fries from here.  Wonder if he knows how much a grande skinny caramel latte is?  There was a time when they only sold burgers and fries.  Nah, his shirt’s pulled out and his cap is perched sideways on his head.  He’s definitely a backline kinda guy.  He’s in a hurry, too.  I probably would have gone home and changed into more comfortable clothes, but then people watchers would be confused, like how this guy smells like french fries and – whoa, he’s passing by and I got a whiff of pickles.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Quarter Pounder fall out of his pants leg.

See how easy that was?  It’s all a matter of paying attention to details.  I use all my senses – well, except touching – to profile the passerby.  Sort of like Sherlock Holmes, except he was a lot smarter and did it for a living.  Now that’s an idea.  I’d have to get used to smoking a pipe.  Of course, since we can’t always judge a book by its cover, this means having to get Holmesey to look for details, like uniforms, accessories (are they listening to an i-pod or talking on an i-phone, or is that a glop of gum on their ear?), protest signs held above their head, t-shirt messages (like ‘I do what the voices in my wife’s head tell me to do’ or ‘I like starting fires’) and posture.  My mother always told me not to slouch.  What can I say?  Anyway, the joy of watching people first comes with really looking at them.

Here comes the perfect example, a cute couple.  He’s about four and a half feet tall and so skinny a doughnut hole would fill him up, wearing a buttoned shirt with tiki or totem poles pictured on it and black shorts revealing legs so white they glow.  He’s holding hands with an Amazon sumo wrestler of a woman wearing a circus tent for a dress.  Yep, there’s the wedding bands, that means they’re married – which raises the question as to whether they’re married to each other or not.  (‘Who was that lady I saw you with last night?’  ‘That was no lady, that was my brother!’)  They aren’t in a hurry, and only seem interested in each other.  They stroll by, laughing at some noise he made that had just lifted him off the ground.  I’m guessing he’s a full time stunt double for speed bumps, and she’s a billboard fashion model.  It’s obvious these two are newlyweds – most marriages longer than six months pay each other to keep at arm’s distance.  Sometimes figuring people out is a piece of cake.

Coming the other way is a young lady pushing a double-stroller and surrounded on all sides by various sized children, none of which look over seven.  She’s dressed in gaily colored child-resistant clothing, right down to the galoshes, and seems in need of a break.  Every child, and I mean every, seems to be either trying to outdecimal each other or shatter surrounding shop windows, creating a cacophony of ear-splitting noise.  Directly behind this this rapidly moving conclave, like the wake behind a powerboat, people turn to stare and clasp hands over their horrified mouths, and it isn’t until they pass that I notice a little one about two years old bringing up the rear, taking off the last bit of his clothing and letting it fall behind.

There are so many benefits to people watching, as it offers a never-ending supply of insight into the human condition, as well as providing excellent mental exercise and practice in the art of intuition.  My intuition is telling me now to sit back, relax, and see if the little guy makes it to their car before mom notices.

About jaytharding
Christian Mystic-in-training, burgeoning Apologist, Writer, Poet, Philosopher, all-purpose curmudgeon Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 11 Corinthians 5:17

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