People Watching (Why You Don’t Want Me Jogging in Your Neighborhood)

22 May

Common question asked while people watching: “Did you see that?”

Have you ever sat in a crowded place and just watched people? Of course you have. I think “people watching” is a common enough activity. I would go so far to call it unavoidable. If you ever go to a department store–a Walmart–you must be doing a little of it. I can do while pushing a cart; I’ll even stop and feign interest in bath mats if I hear something striking coming from an interesting face.

It’s enough time to create a tiny snapshot of people’s lives, no more than prejudices and stereotypes. When I see a mom unabashedly yelling at or spanking her kid, I shudder thinking about how she disciplines at home. I see families that look like they just climbed out of a dumpster and wonder what their house looks like. I see beautiful people and wonder if they live beautiful lives.

An extension of my love for people watching is actually discovering how people spend their time. I would love to grab an interesting-looking person on the street and ask “What are you all about?” Obviously, I don’t mean literally “grab” them–that’s against the law and could get you killed–but just talk to people. Sadly, I’m not one of those people who can approach strange people. Everyone seems so busy. And if I find myself in a conversation started by a stranger, I’m not able to ask such personal questions. Instead of probing, I end up being probed, which is uncomfortable.

Generally, I have to rely on the written word or television for glimpses to the inside. Though I rarely watch them anymore, I’m fascinated with shows about addiction and mental illness. I like Hoarders and Intervention, but the latter scares the crap out of me. A whole section of this addiction show is reserved to remind us that it can happen to anyone. She was such a happy baby. Maybe that’s why reality shows are so popular: our fascination with what’s going on behind the curtains.

When I jog at night by a house with unblocked windows I can’t make myself not look. What’s going on in there? Are these people happy? Miserable? Is there an alcoholic living there? Is someone dying from cancer?

My wife makes sure our shades are drawn at night. I tend to leave them open. What would people see in our house? Maybe me reading or cleaning up after the kids. They would see kids running, jumping, fighting, dancing. In the warm months, they would hear the sounds of kids and dogs–thuds, barking, screams, crying. They might hear music.

That’s boring, common stuff. It’s what you’d expect to see. The juicy stuff isn’t visible from the window. It’s in histories, sad stories untold, hidden feelings, dark thoughts, tense conversations in inner rooms.

I like to think that every house on our block contains a fascinating story, enough to fill a book I’d read. That’s every house on your block too. And your house. And of course mine.

3 Responses to “People Watching (Why You Don’t Want Me Jogging in Your Neighborhood)”

  1. Kodiko May 22, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    Very compelling 🙂 It is… fun/interesting/entertaining to peek into other people’s lives. Maybe it satisfies our curiousity so much because it is a taboo thing to do!

  2. misfit120 May 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    Stay outta my neighborhood ya damn peeping tom! Only kidding, I do the same thing in stores, at my local casino, and with binoculars at the beach with a zoom lens in the summer……oops. (very good perspective on life’s oddities)

  3. Lunar Euphoria May 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    Oh gosh yes. I want love people watching and I often want to stop everything and interview them.

    I actually got to do this once in college – I helped a professor collect data for a sociology project comparing people who make pilgrimages to Graceland and to the Civil Rights Museum. It was a great subtext to pull people of the street and interview them. Good times.

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