Tuesday, December 23, 2014

People Watching

Big cities are good destinations for "people watching." But let's face it: "people watching" is just a euphemism for staring without getting caught. Really, "people watching" is to staring what "enhanced interrogation" is to torture. (There's a modern analogy for the SAT).

I spent a lot of my youth here trying very hard not to stare, because the only way a city of 11,000,0000 people can peacefully co-exist is if each of them pretends that the other 10,999,999 don't exist at all. But this, like many things about life in a big city, can be challenging.

I was routinely told "not to stare." You simply avert your eyes from the hordes of humanity, if you can. Easier said than done. There are punk rockers with bright blue hair; ranting semi-homeless schizophrenics at my mother's clinic; beautiful models whose heads scrape the ceiling of a subway car; old ladies doing naked calisthenics in front of an open window.

And that's just the sights. Forget about the conversations you can't help but overhear: A guy from India begging his girlfriend to leave Mexico for him, even though he can't afford to pay her way to the States; A douchey sounding father of three in workout clothes, rocking an infant stroller and exchanging fantasy football stats over the phone with his stock broker buddy; The neighbor who just got a drum set AND an upright bass and insists on "practicing" at all hours.

Privacy (and her twin sister, quiet), are the unicorns of a big city. This is perhaps why New Yorkers have the reputation--undeserved in my view--of being cold and unfriendly. In reality, true New Yorkers fall all over themselves to give strangers the best directions or recommendations for food and entertainment. The vast majority of them (us? formerly "us?") are friendly and want to engage. It's just an effort to get your own little piece of peace and quiet. It's why people have to plug into mobile devices, books, newspapers, and magazines: to avoid being both overstimulated and rude.

"Humans of New York" is one of the best, most interesting, and most popular blogs on the internet for a reason. It gives tiny porthole-sized windows into the lives of the 11,000,000 living, working, breathing, sleeping, crying, fighting, laughing, souls that make New York the unpredictable, remarkable, and endlessly fascinating city that it is.

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