My mother was an avid people-watcher. Eaves-dropping often accompanied this, but was not required.
15-Year-Old Me: So then I said to her, do you have the notes from last Friday? And she said to me . . . Mom? Are you listening?”
Mom: Uh-huh . .
15-Year-Old Me: Okay, so she said that she did have them but they were at home and I could come over and . . . Mom? Are you sure you’re listening?
Mom: Uh-huh . .
15-Year-Old Me: Okay, so she said . . . Mom? Who are you listening to?
Mom: Uh-huh . .
15-Year-Old Me: Mom, I’m going to dye my hair purple and join the circus.
Mom: Uh-huh . . . Oh! I’m sorry, I was just listening to the people at the table next to us . . .
This was a common occurrence in my young impressionable life. Mom had a deep interest in people, and how they related to each other. She often said if she could go back and be anything in the world, she would be an anthropologist. She loved National Geographic, traveling to ancient places, and museums of any sort. But it was her love of the sociology she practiced in public.
Here I sit at a local coffee shop doing what I love best — drinking something hot, writing, and people watching (and eaves-dropping). Did I learn this from Mom? I’m unsure it matters, but she would laugh to know I do it, and that makes me happy.
A group of women, about my age came in and sat down with drinks and various forms of breakfast. The first woman started talking, and I wondered if the other two would ever get a word in. She has multiple home improvement projects going, and is very concerned with the real estate value of their renovation. She talked. And talked. And talked. Then she finally asked for the other twos’ opinions.
Finally an opportunity, but it’s still all about her. I wondered. Are they as interested as they look? Maybe. If they are faking it, they are doing a pretty good job; sitting forward in their seats, smiling. The second woman, possibly the younger of the three gave her opinion, and it was back to the first. I’m not sure I saw the third woman say anything at all while they sat, but she smiled the most.
Sliding their arms in their winter coats, the first asked what the other two had going on this weekend. The third woman looked at the second woman. Clearly she was not the extrovert, and was probably happier listening than talking. When she finally took her turn answering, they were almost out the door. These are the kinds of things I watch.
An athletic girl came in with her parents and grandparents. They sat farther away, so I couldn’t hear their conversation. At first I didn’t think it was her parents because they spoke so formally with her. But when grandfather settled in his chair, she said loudly enough, “How are you doing, Pops?” That made me smile.
Sometimes I look at couples and decide if they look like they belong together. Then I find myself asking what is he doing with her or the other way around. This leads to me shaming myself for such a shallow comment, even if only in my head.
I am fluent in body language, which is easy to misinterpret. Novices will read one snapshot and make judgement too quickly. Crossed legs and arms may signal negativity. On a closer look, her toe is touching his shin, an intimate gesture of flirtation.
I take samples of conversations or body language and make up stories. Some kid was in with a woman I thought was his mother. I overheard her saying, “No offense to your father, but . . ” In my experience I have come to learn that when someone starts a sentence with the words no offense, someone is about to be offended. I made up a story that he lived with his father, and this was his mother who had gone through a bitter divorce. They met here to catch up on life and other things. On the way out, she told him if his parents had any questions, they should call her. Now I’m wondering if it’s worth coming up with another story or if I should give them up and move on.
Often, as is the case today, my attention is drawn to myself. Who am I to another people-watcher? I sit, pea coat over my shoulders, two cups, — one empty, the other hot. My hair pulled back, still wet from the shower, high in a messy pony-tail. I check my phone periodically, tapping the screen, smiling or frowning, then set it down again. I read. I write. I smile, then touch a tear away. I glance periodically at the other tables, groups coming and leaving. There is a lot of thinking going on, though my posture is relaxed. I wonder what story I bring to mind . . .
Peace . . .