The other day, while at the mall, my wife and I went through an oft-repeated routine: she entered a clothing store and I took a seat on a bench outside to wait for her. Why did I not join her? There are many reasons actually, but I will give only two. First – as any married man could testify – entering a clothing store with your wife can be a very hazardous experience, for at some point you are certain to be asked a terrifyingly unanswerable question: “Does this make me look fat?” If you answer “yes”, you will be called an insensitive pig and will be treated as such for the next two weeks; if you say “no”, you will be called a liar until you say “yes” which will gain you the expanded title of a lying, insensitive pig. And if you choose to remain silent, your silence will be taken for a “yes” and you will be accused of being unable to communicate. Thus, the wise man upon hearing this question will respond by promptly faking a heart attack.
The second reason why I chose not to accompany my wife is that it gave me an excellent opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching. Now, I realize that this may sound like some sort of deranged voyeurism, but I assure you that the kind of “people watching” to which I am referring is perfectly legal. It consists in observing individuals whom you do not know and trying to guess something about them in that brief moment as they pass by.
The mall is a veritable smorgasbord of humanity and the perfect place for a people watcher. Take, for example, one the newest trends in parenting: the child safety leash. I counted at least three children (two boys and one girl) who were tethered to their parents by this strange device. One of the little boys I saw kept darting in front of his mother only to be jerked back (yo-yo like) by a flick of his mother’s wrist. She did this nonchalantly while chatting with a friend who walked beside her. The friend, however, was visibly disturbed and she would wince every time the child was reined in. I’m surprised that the mother never noticed.
Then there was the rather large fellow wearing a denim shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots that clicked every time he took a step. He sported a Fu Manchu and a mullet hairstyle that was billowy on top and stringy in the back. In one of his meaty fists he clutched a tiny, pink shopping bag that he swung by his side to match his lumbering gait. I noticed several shoppers point and snicker after passing him, and I must confess that the sight brought a smile to my own face. Yet he was the epitome of self-confidence; wearing a silly grin as he strode by my bench. Perhaps he had a gift for his girlfriend or wife in the bag – or maybe for his mother.
Shortly after, a pack of teenaged boys shuffled by. Nearly everyone of them donned a baseball cap and a polo shirt with the collar turned up in the back. They appeared to have developed a synchronized strut and seemed to be trying very hard to exude a macho presence to everyone about them. One of the boys caught my eye in particular; it seemed as if his every gesture was calculated to please his peers. His eyes darted to and fro from underneath the brim of his cap until once they locked with my own, lingered there for a moment, and then turned away. I wondered if he was happy – as happy, say, as the big man with the little, pink bag.
All of this had taken quite a while, and I was beginning to worry about my wife (and my bank account). A quick glance through the store window, revealed her standing at the checkout counter about to make her purchases. I got up from the bench and strolled over to meet her at the entrance. As I approached the store, I noticed a man and woman having a heated conversation within. The man had his hands raised in an exasperated defense. I smiled to myself. Poor guy, he should have faked a heart attack.