PeopleWatching

PeopleWatching
Crispijn de Passe the Elder: Noah leaving the ark with his family and animals: at left Noah's family carries supplies, at right animals descend on a ramp from the ark, above birds fly from the ark, from a series of engravings for the 'Liber Genesis' (1612)
" … even if your quarter horse provides none of the entertainment."

I've always been a sucker for a parade. Few anticipations excite me more than the one that comes when I'm on my way to watch a parade, even when I know for certain that most of the 'units' will be lame. I love waving at people floating by in spotless mid-century convertibles and I'm stirred by every marching band. When we lived in Takoma Park, Maryland, which sponsors a Cracker Jack 4th of July parade, theirs included a yoga drill team which would march for half a block, then stop to perform poses. The 911 Truthers always fielded a provocative float, and one year, neighborhood dads organized a Grill Team, which performed synchronized marching while pushing gas grills in front of them. The best of the best have always been the happened-upon ones, like that year we came up from a Manhattan Flatiron neighborhood subway station to find ourselves experiencing the annual gay pride parade cruising by, with Cyndi Lauper on the back of some fire station's flatbed float belting out Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, surrounded by dancing shirtless hunky firefighters wearing spangly hot pants and bright red fireman helmets. That experience could change anyone's life!

Covid Shutdowns limit the opportunities for attending parades, but the real attraction of them was always the PeopleWatching opportunities they afforded.
Whatever's happening on the street, the associated sidewalk parade's always at least as good, and often better than anything the parade offers. I'm fascinated by those who showed up hours before the beginning to secure a spot for their lawn chairs and ice chests, as if they could not tolerate missing a minute. Others lurk in shadows, feigning an unconvincing indifference, for just showing up demonstrates an interest. Throngs of kids chase the Shriners on caper cycles, who throw an endless cloud of penny candy. Everyone smirks when the Fair Queen's quarter horse dumps a load right in front of the Junior High School's Drum Major, and cheer when the kid in the careening four-wheeler shows up to scoop up the mess. The Vets remove their hats when the colors come by and everyone nods, seemingly at anyone passing.

I watch the list of my readers as Facebook collects them. I notice who's first each day and calculate popularity by how quickly the list grows, though the newer version of the application can't seem to count properly. I almost always know the people watching, and like when attending a parade, the people I spot each elicit some story I'd probably forgotten until their presence sparks a warm memory. That sense of belonging somewhere muffles much of the weariness isolation encourages. A comment or two equates to sidewalk conversation, sometimes heartfelt, other times, just in passing. Each represents a recognition, though, and complain all you want about the deep down superficiality social media encourages, even a glance seems to make a genuine difference to me, for a reassurance washes up and over me whenever I acknowledge that somebody saw me, and whenever I spot someone else. I belong somewhere!

When I was a kid, the family used to head downtown on Friday nights, when Main Street lit up and the stores stayed open until nine o'clock. While my mom shopped, my dad would buy a bag of Newberry's popcorn and find a seat to PeopleWatch. Each of us kids counted ourselves lucky to share that bench with him and watch that movie. He'd see folks he knew and warmly greet them. He'd occasionally comment on some particularly outrageous someone or something floating by while ensuring that popcorn was equitably passed between us. We were the audience watching the play. Those were, indeed, good old days. Now, my laptop's become my bench, and I perform most of the PeopleWatching as if through a one-way mirror, with those I observe having no sensation that I'm even watching here. Yet these more-than-arm's-length relationships still sustain me. I wanted you to know that you do not anonymously pass by me. You're part of a parade and this crowd reveres your presence, even if your quarter horse provides none of the entertainment.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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