People Watching - You Never Know What You're Going to See...
Some people, you know?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a ‘people watcher.’ My Dad was a people watcher too. When you are a people watcher the older you get the more intensely you practice this trait. I think it probably has something to do with realizing that there ‘is no rush to do this or that’ or to get ‘here or there’ immediately. As my parents got older my mother who loved to shop would have my Dad take her to the Seaview Square Mall. As she would tell it, “I parked your father on a bench in the middle of the Mall and came back to get him when I was done shopping.” The thing was – my Dad loved it. He’d buy himself a bag of cashew nuts and sit there and watch the people. For anyone who has ever entered a mall you know that this can be a most interesting – sometimes shocking and often amusing experience. The best part of this exercise was that when we next saw my Dad he would regale us with stories of the people and the scenes he had witnessed.
Some of my Dad’s stories were so bizarre we would accuse him of making them up. Over the years I’ve become quite a ‘people watcher’ myself and I only wish my Dad were here so I could apologize for the accusations. Of course I don’t do my people watching in malls as I don’t go to malls, only on the very rare occasion. I do, though, love to sit in the car when the better half goes into Home Deport or Lowes. I make a game of my watching – I’ll spot someone coming out of the store and as they walk to their vehicles I’ll try to guess which one will be theirs. If I were being graded for this effort I’d have been expelled long ago and I can’t figure out why I do so badly – I’ve been at it a long time – wouldn’t you think I’d have picked up some insight? Little old lady, handbag on her arm, pulling one of those hauling things loaded with lumber. I’m figuring she’s headed for the Tundra and will load the lumber in, get a step stool to get into the cab and drive off. Can’t tell you how many little old ladies I’ve watched load up a pickup truck. Not this time. Doesn’t she go to the fancy-schmancy van, pile everything in and take off in a flash – no step stool needed.
Sometimes I hit the nail on the head but ‘not so much’. I love the families that come in masse to these stores. In they all traipse, sometimes five to seven people – parents, teens, brothers-in-law, the whole kit and caboodle. Out they come and I’m expecting numerous and large purchases. The lead guy is carrying what appears to be a box of nails. Often there are fathers with numerous young children – I’m no shopper but even if I were, the thought of going to a store with four or five kids, all darting in different directions just in the parking lot (imagine what happens in the store), give this guy a ‘medal’.
Young couples seem to have secured the market on arguments as they go ‘in’ and ‘out’ of these establishments. Going in the male is usually leading the way speaking in a manner that gives you to believe that he has everything in hand. The return trip often plays out with the female leading the parade out of the store, children in hand, and in the rears the woebegone ‘head of the household’ pushing a cart full of things that somehow don’t resemble what he had been boasting of buying as he crossed the parking lot on entry.
Just recently I witnessed a ‘people watching’ that for me will always rank up there in the top 10, possibly the top 3. Of course I say this not knowing what the future holds but I’d venture to think I am right.
I won’t mention the store only to say that we were in the Monmouth-Ocean County area. I had, as I often do, brought a book with me as I was aware the better half had several things to look for on this occasion. I saw the usual – the group of guys in their early 20’s (my guess – they may be older, everyone looks young to me now days) coming out of the store with a large box containing a new chain saw and a pull cart loaded with flowers – go figure; no little old ladies this time around; and basically just ordinary people popping in and out of the store. I was a bit disappointed actually and barely looked up as a man – maybe in his late 40’s – early 50’s went by with his arm around his wife and 3 kids (probably all teenagers or close to it) walking arm-in-arm with their parents. The car windows were open and I heard the kids calling the adults ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ so I looked away, went back to my book thinking how grateful I was that I had something else to fill the time – the ‘people watching’ was a bust this day.
About 20 minutes later I noticed a man coming out of the store and not running but moving at a good pace. He was on his cell phone. He appeared alarmed. He was the ‘Dad’ from the family I had seen before. He hurried by the front of our car and turned and quickly went behind me. As I looked in the rearview mirror I thought, ‘Where’s he going, his car was back the other way when he came in?’ In that second the view in the mirror came clear – there, not more than 10 feet behind our vehicle was ‘Dad’ and a very young miss (in Ireland a ‘fancy lady’) in a passionate embrace. Assurances were being given to the ‘fancy lady’ that she would indeed see him later that night and would she please go now as he had to return to the family in the store.
I had the strange feeling that I was in a theatre – maybe a drive-in and this was a lousy plot in a B movie. He scurried back to the store. Not long after the family unit came out entwined as they had been on entry.
When the better half got back in the car I said, “You’re not going to believe what I saw.”
Pealing with laughter after I had related my tale the better half looked over at me and said, “You know, you get more like your father every day.”
C.M. McLoughlin, a writer and editor from New Jersey and New York, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.