Part of the fun I experienced on my little trip to Huge And Wonderful Farmer’s/Flea Market last week was the joy of people watching. Put me someplace where there’s plenty of folks and a refreshing beverage, and I’m a happy little peeper.
I’m not a gawker, heavens no. That would be impolite. There’s something so creepy about looking straight on to someone; it’s like barging into their dressing room when they’ve got one leg into the new trousers they’re hoping will fit. (And let me tell you, girlfriend, unless you are matchstick thin you have got to put those corduroys back on the display.) People are busy being themselves and if you give a full eye-to-eye look while they’re being themselves they suddenly jerk out of themselves and give the deer-in-the-headlights look and you feel bad for scaring them out of their natural habitat.
(Apparently today is overused-hyphen-day.)
People watching must be done discreetly. (Now I have the Wicked Witch voice in my head: “These things must be handled delicatelyyyyyy…..”) Not to be a creeper or shifty-eyed, because that’s wrong too. It’s better to be engaged in something, like savoring your refreshing beverage or rearranging your ratio of purchased-bags to shoulders or fixing the short sock that keeps trying to escape your heel. This last one can be a bit awkward, especially when you realize that you’ve become the one people are watching. But hey, look at the service you provided! That’s the spirit!
My favorite people watching at an outdoor market happens when I’m at a stall or booth. There I’m perusing the items, but also perusing my fellow humans and becoming part of their day just for that moment. If I’m reaching for a whoopie pie and another lady is reaching for the one next to it, then I get a chance to wonder what kind of life that hand is attached to: Natural nails or tips? Fake gold bracelet or something cherished? Tattoo of significance or rebellion? Happy marriage? Divorced? Kids? City or country? Working or retired? Movie first or book? (What can I say? Hands are very entertaining.) If we reach for the same whoopie pie, then we have breached the barrier and can engage:
“Whoops! I’m sorry!”
“Whoops. I guess that’s what you say during a WHOOPIE pie encounter, huh?”
“That’s right – that’s so funny!”
“You have it, I’ll go for this one.”
“Are you sure? Thanks!”
“Whoops! I’m sorry!”
The other kind of encounter begins as a silent one. For example, say many of us are perusing the jewelry displays, and one person mentions something to a companion. Companion comments back in a negative fashion, and Person answers back lightning-fast in a snarky yet hysterical way. I can’t help it, and I smile. Person looks at me and says “Right? It totally is! You get me, right?” and we share a laugh. Poor Companion looks put out that I, the usurper, am a member of the Sharing-the-Snark club and moves on to a different piece of jewelry and says in a please-be-my-friend-and-like-me-again voice “This would look gorgeous on you!” and Person moves on and I feel happy for the couple, united again in the Dance of Shopping.
But my favorite, by far, is the sitting-in-silence watch. (You realize I’m inventing reasons for hyphenation, right?) This happens when a handy bench or seat presents itself just when my tired legs say “enough already, we’ve been doing all the work, can we please take a rest?” (See earlier post about body parts having brains.) I grab a seat, exhale deeply, and go into semi-focus to watch the parade of humanity passing by.
Small, wiry boys who dart around playing hide-and-seek with another such boy, usually not aware of precarious displays of merchandise or jutting elbows and are two seconds away from being introduced to them. Sweaty and overtired babies almost too tired to cry but unable to help it and young moms who feel the same and wish they had not come out in the middle of the afternoon when they knew it would mess up the baby’s nap time but how could they know the dishwasher repairman would keep them hanging until 11:30 for an 8:15 appointment? Newly retired couples who are overdressed for an outdoor market and are trying to figure out where to go next in an overly polite way. Men who have a closed look about them and feel it their duty to be in charge in every single situation that arises, even as to how much ice in a cup is cheating a customer out of his fair amount of Mountain Dew. Grandparents who are enjoying an outing with their grandchildren and can’t stop smoothing their heads or touching their shoulders and visibly pouring love on them. Harried workers on a brief break from the selling, flexing sore shoulders and gratefully stretching their necks and raising their arms high towards the sun. Amish women in layers of black held together with pins and snow-white caps moving swiftly through the crowds in their neon green sneakers. Moms and adult daughters shopping together, so many variations on that theme: dressed and made up almost matching, so that the relationship is ultra close and maybe a little competetive; suburban tan and healthy mom in preppy clothes with pierced and tattooed daughter, or sometimes vice-versa; a pair of motorcycle queens; a mom that looks like hard times has never left her life trailing a daughter who is made up like a cover girl and is clearly indulged in every facet of her life; an honest, open-faced daughter patiently waiting for an angry and bitter mother to stop arguing with a vendor over an already-reduced price of melons; and a pair that giggle together like teenagers and have obvious affection and respect for each other.
It’s free, it’s wonderful, it makes my day.
Hope that doesn’t make me a creeper.