Out of the Way

People have a great many items on their lists of favorite things to do, which they almost never do. I don’t mean to activate a debate on the subject, no, I probably do.  I think it is perfectly plain in my mind that I have too many things I like to do and not enough time. This is often highlighted when in conversation with others and they ask what you like to do when not working? Which is an entire different conversation we should have about delineating one's work from one's joy or happiness. But specifically to the idea that we rarely do the things we highlight with our online dating profiles.

Did long walk on the beach just pop into your head? Of course it did, the most cliché statement next to “Women prefer men with a sense of humor.” Which is what keeps me out of the gym. The other great statement made with abundant frequency is “People Watching.” Most people agree they love people watching. The statement emerges when discussing extra time spent at airports or at a high-end department store shopping with your spouse. I don’t dispute that people are being sincere in their expression of loving to people watch. However I don’t believe people are taking the idea of observation seriously. Let us assume that "People Watching" is a great sport or even a highly technical practice, which should be revered like the skills of a great dancer. Those skills should not be limited to the passenger seat while stuck in traffic or the chair outside the fitting room.

I walk a lot, despite my California zip code. I spend a lot of time hoofing it. We live in one of the smaller beach towns on the coast and with the tourist influx it’s always just more convenient for parking to leave the truck at home. I grew up in tiny Ridgefield Washington. A truly slow place. Take that word slow to mean ideal or well paced for a good life. But Ridgefield is hard for talented people watchers. Most of the people on the sidewalks are related to you or from a family you are feuding with. The cast rarely changed and that left the old school people-watchers sitting on their benches debating the weather rather than utilizing their vast skills of human observation.

My current town suffers from no such lack of fresh visual resources. A couple times a week a giant cruise ship will belly up to our coast and dispense a veracious lot of others, new and never seen before. These travelers lumber up and down our streets seeking nooks and crannies and trying to avoid the punk kids congregating outside the burger stand hoping for another dollar to support their wandering journey. These kids it should be noted are excellent at people watching, but for them it comes off more like hunting than observation for observation sake.

People watching for the sake, is one of those great human experiences that should be practiced. Like whistling, you only really get good at it in your sixties, and only if you have been practicing daily. You should whistle ever day. And please if you can possibly think of an argument why you shouldn’t whistle everyday come over for some pancakes and coffee and I bet I get a whistle out of you.

Your technique for observing your fellow person will undoubtedly develop as your own personal observation machine. I find several tactics in people watching, i.e. writing the story of the subject observed. Internally generating the fight being had by the red faced couple would be a perfect example. Another tactic is the blatant fashion watch, deciding if you yourself could utilize part of the outfit, or where they would have found such interesting pants, the zipper on the butt, genius. Also inside the people watching genre is the accidental check-out of someone you already know. This happens more often from behind, when you are thinking so specifically about the outfit, that you didn’t bother to do the initial ID check to confirm strangerness at the start of your gawk. But it is a great moment when you are caught staring by someone who knows you and you come awake to the moment like getting slapped in a soap opera. I usually go with the Scooby-doo face shake, like clearing a trance, then the smile and the apology for spacing out, and you hope that they believe that you were thinking some deep thought about your mortgage rather than scoping the way their socks matched their shirt in perfect early nineties style.

With people watching comes a certain acceptance of the return of the subject's gaze. This can never be truly eliminated. Because I believe even other-sighted and vision-impaired individuals must have their forms of people watching. Which would be fascinating right? I guess not so hard to reproduce with closed eyes, but still, think of categorizing everyone on the street by other means than sight. Could you really hold their smells and clap clap of their gait in your mind for long enough to build an inventory of characters? Certainly a task for your next people watching session.

But now to the title of today's cross section of my thoughts. Could you please just smile when you pass people on the sidewalk. It’s free and it might help. Most people are not murderously angry while walking up the street, but it feels that way from the scowls I get. I refuse to believe it is me who is specifically eliciting these murder-resting faces. I am not in your way on the sidewalk and if I am taking up an extra second, look up, spend some time dancing with me. It would be a shame if people believe they are about to be mugged at any moment and must stay arms length away from everyone on the sidewalk. As I wrote, I walk a lot, most days even. I walk to the coffee place, the record store, the fish monger, the ice cream parlor, the book store, the junk shop, the museum, you know just about anywhere people would go on a first date, I walk. Well maybe not the fish monger, that might be kinda a smelly date, and smell is one of those things you can’t unremember. It would be maybe the wrong memory to lock-in on the first date, the smell of fish guts rotting in the alley behind the store. Did that work, can you smell that now in your mind. I like very much smell memories, even bad ones. My brother and I, as we age, keep trying to figure out how our father is sneaking into our houses and farting. But that is really the only explanation for the definite signature smell that has appeared in the last couple years.

In my walks to all the places I must visit to feel normal, I am constantly walking in the way of others and they are in my way. I just slow down or speed up to accommodate, I dodge right or left, I move so I can best help both of us out. But car horns are not helpful in such cases, and deep guffaws of breath let out as if I am preventing you from getting to your surgery table are uncalled for at the very least. The previously mentioned murder resting face is bad enough, but I propose that it's okay for us to be in each other’s way. Who gave the way anyway, right of way on a sidewalk is a pliable idea at best. We are sharing this space, because we choose to live in this community. How great is that to feel like you belong to a place because you know the cracks in the sidewalk and the people who hop them to avoid maternal back breaks. I like the obstacles. I like having to work my way down town through the throngs or the light traffic of can hunters digging through the large street trashcans in the early morning. Obstacles make the place feel alive and make me feel like walking is the analog version of getting somewhere. 

I like phones with cords that pin you in to the room or corner. I like very much the idea of one place to go to receive and make calls. The digital convenience of cell phones has never replaced the romance of dragging a corded phone into a corner for privacy. Knowing that everyone was listening in. Which translates to them being involved in your life. We have distanced ourselves from that connectivity and we have grown more alone in doing it. We have locked out the people we need, we have gotten them out of our way. But now there is no way to bring them back in. We have dissolved the group, and the band members are off on their solo careers.

The record shop sells vinyl, new and old. Did you know that most of the musicians today still release their stuff on vinyl? It allows for a couple great things. One, it is a much better thing to get an autograph on after the show than an MP3, besides all vinyl albums now come with a code for digital download. That’s right you buy the vinyl and get the digital download for no additional charge. Second reason vinyl is still coming out, having your work on vinyl allows for people to attach themselves longer to your work. It is harder for it to get lost in the playlist of your gazillion entry playlist on your phone. Thirdly, releasing on vinyl makes you a legit band and builds out the reality of your existence. Any fool with a computer can release a thousand songs online, but getting them pressed into vinyl shows that you have support and agreement from the outside world that your venture is worth while. Which is the idea of community coming together to affirm your efforts as a musician. 

So Vinyl is better for all of those reasons and I believe it gets in your way. Like right now I have to get up and flip the record, Kurt Vile... There, much better, the record player needs its listener to keep going. It requires back and forth, it requires my attention to keep going. Which might seem like the kind of drawback that a cord is to a phone, but it isn’t. Flipping a record takes just enough skill to avoid the scratch; it causes the listener to consider on some minor physiological level the gesture being performed. That consideration builds connectivity to the act of listening. Pandora, the online listening service, requires the same attention every few minutes. This resets their commercial package, but also keeps the listener engaged, they didn’t get that from the digital platform they got that from vinyl records. Here is two more reasons vinyl is better than the best, you can loan them, and they make great gifts.

I walk with earbuds in a lot, to listen to podcasts and books on tape. But I always try to look up and smile at the people I meet going the other way. My earbuds are not a place to hide to keep me alone and unbothered, they are just a place for information. That’s not meant to be judgey, just informative. It doesn’t really matter if you look up and nod to people you are passing, but if feels damn good to do it. So if you are suffering from some amount of fatigue at the crunch of contemporary life. Than try getting in my way on the street sometime and we can go get a cup of some thing or a scoop of something even more fattening.


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