Peoplewatching in NYC

I search the faces on the streets. I look for frowns and twitches, for slight smiles, or brows knitted together with intensity but I see nothing. When people put their game faces on in the morning they make a concerted effort to do a good job of it.

All expressions are made placid – the only annoyance displayed is at “delayed green” traffic lights or cars crowding the crosswalks. Other than that all is ostensibly well with the world. There is no indication of excitement, discontent, anger, hurt, sadness, no betrayal of any emotion.

I wonder what time slot of the day is reserved for letting go, for finding the nearest loved one to lash out on: the one person in the world who we take for granted, sans compunction (you know we all have one of those), is probably the one who feels the brunt of every bit of angst and anxiety that each one of us radiates. As far as the rest of the world is concerned we’re sans colors or shades.

That’s usually the first impression, gleaned on days when I myself am preoccupied with weightier issues. But there are days when I dig deeper, look further. Some texture then emerges. Like a woman walking a few steps ahead of me, of generous proportions, wearing a long gypsy skirt that sits very low on her hips, paired with a strapless and stretchy top that ends somewhere near the region where her last rib would be, could one discern it with ease. She turns her head left at every shop window that reflects her image back at her. I walk behind her silently mouthing, “…and left, and left…” as I see her head turn each time. Each time she sees herself, she pulls her skirt down just a few fractional inches and moves her top up a few, aiming for a well-balanced midriff exposure I imagine, and then continues walking. This happens many times until the reflection finally registers that pulling the skirt down any further would prove rather disastrous.

What could have been going on in her head? What role was the midriff exposure playing in her sense of well being that day? Had she just lost some weight perhaps?

Then there’s the couple, usually arriving at the city together and kissing passionately before splitting off in different directions toward their offices. I am used to seeing them do this everyday until one day they act as though they can’t stand the sight of each other. They yell and scream and let each other know, in no uncertain terms, how it wouldn’t be too soon if they never saw each other again! The woman then continues on, a few steps ahead of me. I have to pass her just so I can get a sideways glance at her face. Her expression is pleasant, it reflects no turmoil, no anxiety, no unpleasantness…just another normal morning, on just another day. I wonder if her partner, who had walked away in the opposite direction, is also similarly composed. I also wonder how they would be with each other on their reverse commute; would they travel together again, take the same bus home, would they sit on the same seat if they did? Just how normal are things between people? How normal are people?

There are people on the streets who talk to themselves. I look to see if they have that ubiquitous Bluetooth device tucked behind their ears when it looks like a soliloquy is in progress and more often than not it is. Fists get pumped in the air, expressions transform the face as the singular conversations go on, and it could be a very normal looking person doing it. Yes, I have heard that talking to oneself is normal but no matter how many times I hear it I still have trouble believing it.

I have been guilty of irrepressible smiles myself, looking down at my shoes or ahead at nothing in particular while finding it hard to wipe a smile off my face. Sometimes strangers smile back without any clue as to what’s got me so entertained. Admittedly such occasions are rare and are usually prompted by the replaying of something someone probably said to me during the day. I love the days when it happens.

There was also the time, years ago, when I had a deep sense of foreboding about the security of my job. I had been at that job for a couple of years and hadn’t received any feedback on my performance, no one knew me. Then there was an ominous buzz that went on for three months about upcoming layoffs. I remember having lost all my confidence, I probably slouched perceptibly as I walked, didn’t stride as I usually do. And one day I even tripped over the sidewalk and fell as New Yorkers gathered around me asking if I was ok. I can’t help but think that fall was psychosomatic in nature, an outward manifestation of everything that was going on in my head. To others it probably just resembled a missed step.

We march around each day selectively revealing parts of ourselves to arrive at a personal outcome that we desire from interpersonal relationships, each one of us concealing so much more than we’ll ever reveal. Each one a ticking time bomb in our own special way; some exploding publicly and some imploding just a little each day until it all just seeps through eventually or manifests in some way, somehow, somewhere and one is left making excuses for oneself.

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