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Here's Looking At You, Kid

Story ID:7731
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Butte Mt. Anywhere
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Here's Looking At You, Kid
by Kathe Campbell

Ah yes, social sleuthing. What is it? We all do it consciously or unconsciously, there's never a shortage of subject matter, and bizarre as it may sound, people watching is great fun.

As a writer, Iíve found people watching is not only a good form of entertainment, but a source of inspiration and creativity for my work. Most characters I run into are more interesting than what I might dream up. Iíll take the stranger talking aloud to a dog that isnít there, a group of teenagers buying clothes in the mall, or any of the interesting array of individuals our world has to offer over TV reruns.

People watching involves observing others to get a feel for the beauty and rhythm of the community. For some it's about trying to guess someone's story just from mere watching. You can see speech in action, relationships, body language, and sometimes eavesdrop on conversations if you're sneaky and cheeky enough. I like calling it, social sleuthing.

Sit somewhere comfortable like a cafe or park bench or under a tree with a book or note pad, and look out onto a busy sidewalk, anywhere tourists and locals hang out. Haunt a beach, theme park, museum, zoo, or places where everyone's feet hurt, take the load off and watch the world go by. I like riding on a bus where we're all glued to one spot sizing up one another, or a dog park watching the natives socialize, frolic, flirt and nuzzle. Then there are the dogs.

It can be twice the fun to people watch with a friend or two who are attuned to the art. We eat and drink coffee or tea and wear dark sunglasses while ogling together. Are any of these people adequately dressed for the weather? Are they part of any pop culture or sub-culture? From their style and mannerisms, what do you think this person's aspirations, politics, or job would be? Comparing notes, we dispute each other's findings until we all reach similar conclusions.

But my favorite prime people watching place is Walmart. Need I elaborate? No, but I will.

All Walmarts have movable and comfortable seating conveniently located throughout their stores, for we oldsters in particular. After receiving a new hip last spring I spent a lot of time on those benches just people watching and waiting before taking another run at shopping.

Would you guess that this one-armed, leather-vested, blue-jeaned Montana gal runs her ranch alone, and has authored pages in fifteen Chicken Soup For The Soul books? All in my seventies I might add. It's doubtful, for even the boys that load my groceries are always surprised that this crippled old prune still drives her truck down off the mountain, bad weather or not.

Find a person who grabs your attention, who isn't about to disappear before you've had a chance to observe them properly. Ask yourself questions about each person you choose, and be aware that folks look and act differently in the food section compared to the pharmacy. Why are they here? Are they happy? Nervous? Irritable? What about the way they talk and walk? What do their facial expressions say, and how do they treat their partners?

Are they wealthy or poor? Are they stylish or completely clueless about fashion? I've seen everything from dirty, torn jeans to hair piled high on tastefully dressed women rushing around on high heels doing the family marketing. I concluded that the young man in grubby jeans probably had a cell phone call from his wife to pick up something before going home from his construction job. As for the lady, she looked to be a girl Friday to some big executive in a large company, and had rushed into Walmart on her lunch hour for groceries.

Finally, so you don't come across as some nosy busybody, be conscious of someone's need for privacy, space, and respect people at all times. You too are likely the subject of observation now and then, perhaps even as you're people watching one fine afternoon. As you age, the parade of people passing by might be your former neighbors, bosses, teachers, classmates, or even lovers. Yikes!

Here's looking at you, kid!