People Watching #6

I’m sitting next to the three of them because I wanted tacos, and instead of waiting until 8 to eat, I went at 7.

I wanted to eat at 8 because 7 is still peak dinnertime, and I was on a schedule. I wanted to read one more chapter of Little Failure and finish aimlessly scribbling in my journal. There was still one more cover letter to write for a job posted over a month ago, and I am so sure that a day could make all the difference between a missed opportunity and the perfect amount of good luck.

But I was sitting in the courtyard at the National Gallery, and on this day, it didn’t want its visitors to forget that it was once an outdoor space. I was so cold that goosebumps grazed the arms of my long-sleeved shirt. I wondered why I’d left my coziest sweaters in a basement in suburban New Jersey and why I still wasn’t convinced that temperatures dipped below the forties below the Mason-Dixon line. I was unsure how the clean lines of the courtyard’s wavy glassy ceiling and the smooth gray tiles, which felt soothing in the summertime, were now too sleek and spare. How sixty minutes were suddenly too long to spend in the company of its trees, too green and wispy from their cultivated lives indoors.

Because it is a weekday and the sidewalks around the Metro Center are empty, I think that 7 will work just fine, but when I walk into District Taco, there are too many people and too many taco combinations, and it takes me ten minutes to figure out what to even order. When the cashier asks me whether I want my food to go, I tell her that I rather stay because I am too distracted, still trying to remember whether barbacoa is made with beef or pork. And when I realize my mistake, the next person in line is already nudging me out of the way, and there’s nothing else I can do but wait for my food and squeeze into the one empty chair next to these three strangers.

The trio are smartly dressed, their outfits perfect for a workplace where dark-rinse jeans are reserved for Friday. Person A wears a blazer over a lace embossed dress while Person B has draped a cardigan over a chiffon blouse. Person C arrives late in a green sweater and khakis.

They never say their names as they eat, but A and B tell C how they are going to the ballet and how they’re so glad that he could stop by for dinner. And C apologizes for being late because he had to help clean up the holiday party he had work today. How was it? It was great! The first one that they had in their new building, but they had to pay out of their own pockets. Was there an open bar? Everyone had really strong gin and tonics. Did he make anything? Pulled pork!

It’s Christmas next week, and C still hasn’t finished shopping. His plan is to make a list, cross-check it with the other relatives, and shop while he is in New Mexico. A and B are intrigued, and C explains that his family lives there. He’ll upgrade his flight to first class, because he can. He also has TSA clearance and double knots his shoelaces.

A complains that she has to work right after the holiday weekend, but it doesn’t matter because no one else will be in the office, which means she’ll probably do nothing. But there’s been exciting things happening because of Cuba. C tells the group that he’ll probably be flying there soon. A nods. Of course, Cuba is so interesting because there’s a lot of potential for both private investment in its health care, especially in the primary care sector.

B says that the last time she traveled was to go to a wedding in Italy. A complains that one of her friends from college is getting married on New Year’s Eve, but she’ll go anyway because it’ll take place on a rooftop. She’ll stay until midnight. The couple sent e-vites.

What is everyone doing for New Year’s?, C wonders. There are friends who are worried about the neighbors and will kick everyone out right at midnight, champagne barely emptied from their glasses. Where do they live? Columbia Heights, and A is excited to hear that because Columbia Heights is “the port to Washington DC.” What a great location!

I finish my second taco when it’s time for the trio to see their ballet. The three gather their trash and leave while A explains to the group how she makes her own preserves and would be happy to send some jars over. As I discover that barbacoa is made from beef, I think how fun it would be to work at a health care company that sends its employees to travel-restricted countries. Or can fruit at the peak of its ripeness. Or believe that a single stop on the Green/Yellow line is enough to convince you that you have an entire city at your disposal.

But I think cooked fruit is more comforting in a pie crust than a mason jar. A grandma sweater is just as fashionable as a structured blazer. I’d choose Prague in economy class over Havana with TSA privileges. I’d rather live somewhere that I can’t fold up and put in my pocket because it will always keep me on my toes.


People Watching #5

Hyde Park is a disaster once the end of the quarter rolls around. This is what happens when you have students sleep-deprived and stressed out by their last round of finals, visiting families, and/or graduation. Signs of chaos include:

  • Students wheeling luggage, often upset when the humidity causes their shirts to stick to their skin
  • Students loading their belongings into the trunks of 5-passenger sedan, often upset by size constraints of said vehicles in addition to the humidity
  • Students hauling furniture across town, which is just about the most terrible part of moving that you can ever imagine
  • Son and father at the post office with a giant crate of books that probably weighs more than several small children–the father looks stoic as he tapes the box shut and thinks of the cost of international shipping
  • Local residents peering curiously into the overflowing dumpsters for interesting finds–one man looks on as Hannah and I deposit cardboard boxes into the dumpsters on 53rd and Greenwood and looks disappointed when we drive away without leaving behind anything worthwhile
  • Speaking of overflowing dumpsters, the local garbage collectors must hate us all

The lengths people go to move in and out into their apartments, while quite impressive, is never quite as fascinating at the people I see at the airport. As I’m writing this, my flight has been delayed by one hour due to some eastward bound thunderstorms, and the people around me deserve a brief mention. They include:

  • A pair of sisters with matching red-dyed hair and Duck Dynasty sweatshirts; one sister sports a giant tattoo of New Jersey on her left calf
  • Elderly Russian couple: the wife asks me to accompany her husband because we have the same boarding positions on our Southwest flight and offers to “save me a good seat” and a handful of mini-Oreos in return; husband nods politely and continues reading a translated version of an Isabel Allende novel while also eating mini-Oreos
  • Man and woman conversing next to me: Man is dressed in business suit while the woman, who has a book in her bag, seems ready for a vacation. But based on the number of times they have mentioned HIPPAA, FDA regulations, and physician assistants (apparently PA stands for more than Pennsylvania), they not only know each other, but also must work in something health related. The woman talks about her seventeen-year-old daughter who is dying her hair for the first time, and the plot twist: she has to pay for it herself!
  • Also, they are clearly sitting in the wrong gate. Health professional man and woman are soon replaced with family consisting of mother, father, and young daughter.
  • Daughter is well-behaved and quite happy with a pacifier in her myself and her mother’s tablet in her lap. The stroller carries the mother’s Michael Kors handbag, child-size juice box of apple juice, child-size container of McDonald’s French fries, empty container of milk with hot pink label that matches daughter’s backpack, and the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a while: purified drinking water bottled in a soda can.
  • Mother on the phone, twice to two separate people: “This is like the worst trip to New York ever.”*
  • Snarky airplane captain comforts cranky passengers on the loudspeaker: “We apologize for the delay folks. Newark has been congested for the past ten years.” Truer words have never been spoken.

*Little did she know that in addition to being delayed for one hour, we would sit on the tarmac for another sixty minutes, and upon our arrival, we would sit in the plane for another forty-five minutes because of course, our gate is occupied.

People Watching #4

Things that I have overhead at Ex Libris instead of diligently working on my Turkish homework/BA/readings/paper:

  • A TA with a British accent at office hours with a first-year: “You need to improve your writing.” Stern words are exchanged. First-year sounds forlorn.
  • TA (or maybe professor) for a different class returning papers to his students. One student shakes his hand – “Thanks for a great class!”.
  • Woman with glasses glances at student hovering over her table: “Oh, we better go. There are table vultures.” (So that’s what you call them?)
  • Student to friend at 11:52 am: “What are you doing here?! You’re supposed to be there at noon!” The specific location of “there” was not determined.
  • Man eating steaming tupperware of rice with some kind of beef and sauce. (Where did he find a microwave? A truly important question.)
  • Someone who looks like an older version of Shoshanna from Girls. 
  • Two girls, both with blonde hair, in matching ballerina buns, plan a chili auction.

People Watching #3

Today, I witnessed an incredibly fascinating conversation between two dog owners. One lady, dressed in a coral-themed shirt and fuchsia shorts, let her black labrador mix bark plaintively at squirrels. The other woman wore capri plants and walked a scruffy terrier-like pooch.

I learned:

  • It’s easy to make friends if you’re a dog owner.
  • Positive reinforcement training totally does not work. At all.
  • There’s a great dog trainer somewhere in Bergen County. They exchanged phone numbers with a 201 area code.
  • Dogs that eat too many treats develop IBS, colitis, and all kinds of terrible gastrointestinal illnesses. I wonder if that applies to people.
  • Both dogs came from shelters. One might have been rescued from euthanasia. As the coral-shirt lady said, “I love hearing stories like that.”

People Watching #2

I took a late lunch today, but Madison Square Park was still packed with people. Instead of reading, I sat at a park bench and simply ate.

I saw:

  • A New Yorker reading this week’s copy of The New Yorker
  • Girl eating sandwich and smudging sandwich crumbs onto the screen of her iPad mini
  • A guy who looked like someone who was in one of my English classes – he was chatting with a coworker next to me and I worried for a solid five minutes that I’d been terribly rude for not at least acknowledging his presence until I noticed he was balding a little and almost sighed with relief because he was merely a stranger.
  • Another French bulldog.
  • Sparrows beating each other up over potato chip scraps – they are vicious creatures.
  • Pigeons who bullied the sparrows to snap up said potato chip crumbs
  • A pigeon that looked like it had been recently interred and resurrected
  • Both sparrows and pigeons being super greedy and trying to break off huge chunks of cookie
  • Over the lawn, there were hazy clouds of small bugs flying in the air, visible only in certain angles and only in the sunlight. (Was I breathing those in?)
  • Three separate individuals eating chopped salads

People Watching #1

I decided to spend the afternoon buried in a book. I was reading The Marriage Plot (which is, so far, one of those I-wish-it-were-so-much-better-but-it’s-not-too-bad-so-I’m-going-to-finish-anyway books) when the rain started sprinkling on my pages. It would stop briefly and then start up again, like sitting under a very light, rotating lawn sprinkler. As a result, I spent a lot of time staring into space.

What I saw:

  • A Pomeranian with a face so “cute” that it didn’t look real.
  • A homeless man wearing a tweed suit jacket, sneakers, baggy black corduroy pants and pushing a shopping cart
  • A lady pushing a stroller, wearing neon pink running shoes
  • A middle-aged couple eating ham and cheese sandwiches
  • A small girl in a pink dress hugging a flag pole
  • Two people in the distance carrying Abercrombie and Fitch shopping bags – I could smell the store’s perfume from my park bench

There were either tourists, joggers, or families. Lots of people dragged small children and/or dogs along with them.  There were horse carriages in the distance.

I soon went back to my book.