It happens now, all the time. It doesn’t matter where I am, whether I am walking down a sidewalk, sitting in a classroom, eating in a restaurant, or idling in my car at a stoplight, I still do it.
I can’t help it.
My eyes move of their own accord. They traverse from side to side, up and down. My head submits to their curiosity and tilts or turns to make visible that awkward angle; it shifts a centimeter to discern the source of that teasing movement which hides in the blurry recesses of my peripheral vision.
I do this “watching” constantly and unconsciously, and I’m afraid it may be the advent of a problem.
I can imagine myself, or rather “see” myself, at a gathering of addicts. The alcoholic sits to my right, the drug addict to my left, and across from me is the chocoholic, the nicotine fiend, the workaholic, and the virtual addict. And then, dispersed throughout the room are the adrenaline junkies, the caffeine crazies, the overeaters, the perfectionists, the religious nuts, the sex addicts, the shopping addicts, the pill poppers, the pyromaniacs, the bulimics, and then there is me, observing them all… the people watcher.
Hello, my name’s Bekah, and I’m addicted to watching others.
I’m not crazy. At least, I don’t think I am. I guess if I was I wouldn’t know, so let me say that at the very least I don’t think I’m crazy. My motives for watching these people are not so that I can do them harm or interfere with their lives. Quite the contrary. I don’t want anything to do with them.
I don’t want to talk to them and I don’t want them to talk to me. I’m not watching because I want to make friends or because I want to pick up some handsome stranger. My looking occurs to achieve only one end, and that’s entertainment.
The thing is, I am an extremely visual person. I swallow colors, eat up landscapes, nibble on architecture, and imbibe art. But these things, for the most part, are stationary. They, unlike people, are capable only of choreographed movements. They are predictable. They follow a pattern. People, however, while they usually they stick to a particular routine or plan, can, on occasion, surprise you. And sometimes, they are just plain amusing.
Perhaps I like chaos. Or maybe I like the idea of infinite variations and possibilities. Some people like rules. Some people like numbers. They take comfort in knowing that certain integers, when acted upon or employed in particular ways, have predictable outcomes when used in a formula. They know that when you square a particular number, that the solution will always be the same. It will never change. They know that if you add, subtract, divide, or multiply two or more numbers, as long as they are the same numbers, that they are always going to have the same outcomes.
People aren’t like numbers. Everything they do can have a new or different result.
Allow me, for a second, to create a formula of my own, but instead of numbers I‘ll use other factors. I’ll take a person, specifically a man aged fifty or so, of medium height with thick limbs and a large, round stomach. Imagine him for a moment, just him, with gray hair, blue jeans, and a t-shirt.
Now, add an environment to the equation. How about an Amazonian forest? Imagine large trees with thick reaching branches, tangled vines, and shiny wet, leaves clustered thickly about him.
Now, add a panther, a big, black, scary beast with large claws and a salivating mouth.
What happens? In your mind, what occurs when you add all these elements together? I’m almost positive that most of you are seeing different things happen.
Perhaps, you see him turn to run from the large cat. Perhaps, you see him grab hold of a sharp stick and take a defensive stance.
Maybe you see him lure the panther into a pit of quicksand. Or maybe you see the entire thing as a stationary picture on the page of a book, or as a frame in a movie printed on a roll of film.
And the variation doesn’t stop there.
We could add other things to this formula, fear for one, or bravery. We could make the panther a cub, or place a rifle in the hands of the man. But no matter what we add or subtract there are millions upon millions of possibilities. And each moment that passes creates even more opportunities for change, and even more variables.
This is the reason why I like watching people. Yes, there are predictable outcomes for certain actions that they take. But sometimes they choose another, unexpected action, and the result is instant entertainment.
However, you must note that there are dangers and risks that come with people watching. It is an act that must be done with care and subtlety. If it is done openly or sloppily, the entire enterprise is compromised. Because, you see, if a person knows you are watching them then they start taking notice of their actions and behave how they think they are supposed to behave, rather than going with their natural inclinations. People just aren’t as interesting to look at if they know they are being watched. Plus, if they see you watching them they may either think you are creepy, or “interested.” Depending on the person, this can either be good or bad, but usually it’s bad.
Today, while clacking away upon the keys of my laptop, I did some serious people watching in a local café. The nice thing about my entire setup was that I could consistently peek over the top of my computer at those around me without them noticing.
I had to stop myself from chuckling at one couple who walked in looking as if they paid way too much attention to their appearance. The girl was pasty white and thin. She wore a khaki trench coat and high top sneakers that stretched higher than I’d seen before (they extended up to cover most of her calves). And settled atop her head was a black beret, under which blond dry curly hair emerged at odd angles. I almost expected her to start reciting beat poetry on the spot.
She, however, was nothing compared to her boyfriend. He sported a tweed jacket and pants, which doesn’t look that unusual normally, until you couple it with a bright yellow bow tie with red polka dots. On his head sat a Sherlock Holmes hat and resting quite comfortably on his nose were small round blue sunglasses. I kept expecting him to either pull a pipe out to have a quiet smoke, or to start referring to everyone as Mr. Anderson. Really, it was too much and provided much needed imaginative material.
I suppose that really is the reason for all the people watching. It gives my imagination a jump start. There’s nothing like an odd, or even a “normal” person, to give your thoughts the food they need.
Maybe my addiction isn’t such a bad thing if it gives rise to creativity. I don’t think I could give it up at any rate. Yes, my mother always told me not to stare, but she never mentioned that staring could be so much fun.
There’s a specimen sitting across from me right now that I’m sure, if you held him under a black light long enough, the orange ensemble he is sporting would start glowing like a firefly. I don’t know, maybe it’s strange that I should think that. Maybe it’s weird that I should pay so much attention, that I should watch and imagine.
Maybe it’s just entertaining.