I get paid to watch people. I’ve watched thousands in my day, for business and for pleasure, for their own good and to learn just enough about them to bring about their destruction. Sometimes both. But the line between the two eroded long ago, and when that happens it’s hard to feel engaged in the process at all.
On the return trip I am again visited by anti-cruise, and I see that the young woman making the announcement enjoys informing us of the plane’s delay. She’s getting off on it. Oh, she’s masked her glee with some skill, but it is no less evident to me. Good for her. The knowledge fortifies me against the wait.
I take a solo seat at the edge of the freshly stirred crowd and entertain myself by playing the survival game. That is, what if the plane went down in the mountains, and we were forced to survive by relying solely on each other? It’s simply a way to pass the time, but this time the odd people are out in force - something that may change the social dynamic entirely.
- giant fat man with his cellphone tucked into the tortured waistband of his sweat pants
- priest with the traditional collar, only he’s smoking and wearing a beret
- stumpy woman in skirt with lumpy, rippled varicose legs
- fidgety guy fiddling with his keys, flips them onto the floor, then waits a moment before coolly picking them up
- mother trying to control her unruly child by whispering sharp rebukes through her teeth, scanning the crowd to see who might be taking too much interest in it
- woman in black, sweater around shoulders, holding a football
- pretty slouching girl with Heidi braids gesticulating with frustration at pay phone
- small pack of ex frat friends yell in unison in reaction to sports event on hanging bar tube
- wallpaper pattern-wearing bird lady who meets up with fat cellphone man
- prim businesswoman with too many travel accessories becomes visibly frustrated, retrieves real estate materials from her carry-on, then puts them away again, gets up, leaves
- man with shockingly sloppy cold eats pizza, says hello to woman throwing away garbage in adjacent receptacle, checks out her ass
Somehow this disparate selection of humanity hums and flourishes, but only because no one can read another’s mind. What a thin and fragile wall that is. I know for a fact that the football woman would be the first to take blood if we were to crash in the mountains, and that it would be for a seemingly minor infraction by one of the ex frat boys…
But I’m suddenly unable to concentrate on the details of that scenario - I’ve been staring too long and, unable to look away, it’s made me blind. Now I’m noticing things on a larger scale. I’m seeing trends. Patterns. There are only archetypes before me.
They stand tugging at their gold chains, tipping their indoor sunglasses, cursing into their cellphones so that everyone else can appreciate the facility with which they wield the accoutrements of advantaged social standing. Have things suddenly taken a turn for the worse? Indications are grim, and I look for clues within the madness. The patterns have changed, and I am left adrift, eyes darting in search of something significant.
Salvation: As if on cue, two men come to a stop just a few feet in front of me. They have just met and already have found common ground. They speak of old car engines while I marvel at the speed with which they were able to tease out this morsel of shared interest. They speak and it’s like I’m watching a play, or an articulated parade float made to stop right here in front of me, their momentum having left them just so. They’re bumpkin chess pieces, white hair, worn plaid shirts, and a slow methodical way of talking, referring to each individual engine part as if it were sitting right there in front of them.
The announcement comes: the plane will be delayed by only two hours. There is a collective exhale, and the community excitedly compares notes. Hardship has brought them together, but I resist it. I will not share in this. Community seems like the easy way out at this point. Isn’t it obvious? How do we so easily fall for it? Who has the advantage, the community or myself at the periphery, watching them?
The answer is unclear, but I’m pretty sure I could take them if it came to that. I’m already looking at them as if I were reading about them later, for being in the moment is too costly a forfeiture, even if the reason is elusive.
One of the flight attendants rushes by me, and I hold my breath out of habit. The idea is that I should keep my lungs free of their air. It’s an ingrained behavior - actually something I came up with back in elementary school. A behavior that has lasted so long must surely be advantageous to survival, and no one knows about this but me. But in the end I love them because they do not know my secret, and I need them because I wouldn’t have a secret otherwise.
» “What the Other Hand Is Doing” (26 of Apr, 2003)
» “Terminal” (31 of Mar, 2003)
» “Dust Is People” (06 of Mar, 2003)
I was there too and I saw someone making clever and rude oberservations about people. They must have been from L.A.quoth Jack on 12 of Aug, 2003