People Watching

People-watching is one of those no-cost pastimes that anyone can engage in- unless one becomes emotionally involved. And the surest way to become emotionally involved is to be in a bad mood when the activity begins. I should know better, but like all humans, I continue to make mistakes.

Either that girl is too pretty, or this man is strange-looking, or the next person that strolls by is having a spirited conversation with some sort of invisible friend. I try not to be judgmental, and having thus acknowledged that I can harbor feelings of goodwill for all, realize I’ve been staring at a panhandler for the last minute, a look of total disgust on my face.

After a few moments of self-recrimination, I return to my humanoid-gazing, if not a better man, at least a tad more humble in the realization that passing judgments based on looks is deeply ingrained, and will no doubt happen again. And again…

Why, just the other day…

I’m sitting in a hospital waiting area while my daughter is holed up somewhere else in this labyrinthine building, having her right eye examined.

A fellow about ten feet away from me has been roaming around the room, sometimes sitting, other times standing. He looks to be around 30, average height, and slim build. No big deal, so far.

He’s wearing jeans, old tennis shoes, a black pullover hoody, and a black stocking cap, long black hair hanging down and out from under said cap. He sports a thick moustache and a short beard, and a while ago he was holding a bag of chips, his long slender fingers pulling out one chip and putting it in his mouth, then chewing in a careful and precise way before admitting another.

There’s a pair of sunglasses perched up there at the front of his cap. How stylish…

Maybe it’s the beard. I’ve never liked them. The wearer always appears to be either vain, hiding something, or a total wimp.

It could be the dainty way he’s eating chips- not effeminate but more parsimonious, as if he’s stingy- or simply has a thing about chips and how they should be eaten just so.

Or is it the fact that he’s been chewing on something else- maybe the same tired and worn out piece of gum- for the last half hour, the jaw moving up and down with only the minimum required effort, mouth never opening even once, while the chin whiskers jump up and down and up and down and up and down as he plays with that hand-held game.

How can he stand wearing the cap in here? Is it just for looks? I’d be sweating like a pig. The only way I’d wear a cap indoors would be if I was bald.

For some reason his attire and mannerisms lead me to conclude that he is self-centered.

Well, so what if he is? What concern is that of mine?

Well, it wouldn’t be, except for the fact that I don’t like vain people- especially ones who keep to themselves, not because of shyness but out of a sense of superiority.

So I sit here with nothing better to do than pass judgment on others.

Actually, his mouth may be opening and closing, but who could tell for sure with all that facial hair blocking the way?

Then again, maybe it isn’t the person I dislike so much as the clothes.

It’s been a half hour and the guy has finally stopped playing the hand-held long enough to deposit more chips in his mouth. That’s what looks weird- he scoops up chips with bunched fingertips, sort of like a fleshy-tipped shovel. Makes me wonder what I look like when I eat.

Of course, he didn’t help his case earlier when he walked across the lobby while sucking clean one fingertip after another…

I also noticed that he walks with a slouch- it’s not his back, though. It starts at the base of his neck, like his head is being supported by a slightly inclined gooseneck lamp.

Sometimes, when I start observing someone for more than a few minutes, I start looking around the room I’m in, trying to see everything that’s happening, just so I don’t miss anything. Either it’s a nervous condition, OCD, or I’m merely becoming more observant than I used to be.

And since I’ve developed the habit of scribbling observations into a notebook while people-watching, I sometimes get a trifle paranoid, again glancing around the room to see if anyone else is watching me watch someone else.

If I look around too much, I can rest assured that others really will start noticing me, thus setting off an awareness chain reaction that will soon cause me to flee the area in embarrassment.

Then someone else will have to endure the temptation of trying not to watch Mr. Chip-Eater the next time he starts sucking on those grimy digits.