I'm a funny kind of guy. I hate crowds. But I love people watching. Sometimes, people are worth more than the price to see a show nowadays. (Especially after you finally pay off both the principle and the interest on the popcorn that you have to finance!) I'm not really sure exactly when, where, or how this bizarre fascination began, but I do recall many years ago taking a road trip with a couple buddies to Hoboken, New Jersey. Why Hoboken? Well, it just kind of seemed like the thing to do at the time. I remember dining "al fresco" for lunch out on a sidewalk of a little neighborhood joint and watching, and commenting on, with unending delight, the many people that hustled past us. It was a real cast of characters. The fascination continues today.
On this bright but breezy Palm Sunday afternoon, I returned to the city in which I grew up in and lived roughly half my life to stroll the scenic boardwalk along the shoreline. I was, as I call it, "boardwalking." In this city, back in the day, you fell into one of three ethnicities: Irish, Italian, or Black, The Irish and Italians lived (miraculously) peacefully integrated throughout the city, but the Blacks lived in their own end of town and pretty much kept to themselves. Easy, now! Before you start calling in an air strike from Jesse or Al, I'm not saying that's the way it should be; I'm just saying that's how it was. And you also had a general feeling back then that most folks walking the boardwalk along the shoreline were local. Now they come from all over, and to walk past them all and hear the various languages spoken, you'd swear you stumbled upon a conference at the UN. Much has changed since I moved out of town, but people themselves, of any kind, have not. P.T. Barnum was a piker! People are the "greatest show on earth," and wherever you go to watch them! (OK, do you folks in Hoboken forgive me now?)
One pet peeve of mine is bumper stickers that are either too wordy to the point you that can't even read what they say, or the kind that have some obnoxiously cryptic meeting, like the arrogant owner wants you to try to figure it out. Now that silliness has found it's way onto sports apparel. I saw one girl walking ahead of me, sporting a sweatshirt that simply said, "Love Pink." But the sweatshirt was black. (Trust me on this one; after spending the best five years of my life in the first grade, I think I have finally mastered my colors!) So which was wrong; the color of the shirt, or the message? (I'm still kicking myself for not asking her!) Or once again, maybe it's a cryptic thing and I'm really just not supposed to get it.
I saw one woman "speed walking" her poor basset hound, and it wasn't going well. I probably should have said something to her. Had the Dog Whisperer been around, even he might have yelled at her! Anyway, the basset was clearly older and looked like he hadn't skipped too many meals. But the determined owner was cranking along, practically dragging the poor beast, and yet what his legs lacked in speed, this happy little guy's tail nevertheless made up for in high-speed wagging. I think like all the rest of us, he was just happy to be out stretching the sticks (or in his case, "stubs"), and to fight off the dreaded "plague" (cabin fever) we have all suffered locally here through this historically horrific winter.
This must have been divorced Daddy weekend, because I saw one Dad walking his approximately ten year old daughter. As they passed, he regaled her the story of the Jim Jones Kool-Aid event in Guyana, back in 1978. Now there's a nice light conversation for a pleasant and sunny Sunday afternoon to pass onto your kid. I bet that poor kid couldn't wait to get back home to Mama, and just imagine what kind of nightmares she'll be having this week. Meanwhile, I'm just dying to know how and why that whole storytelling session even began! Hey "Aesop," try Chucky Cheese or miniature golf next time, OK? And for story telling, take the kid to the movies and let Walt Disney do it for you!
Some poor little kid suffering from what appeared to be leg cramp stopped and was crying at such an annoying pitch, dead seagulls were falling out of the sky around us. While Mama stopped to comfort the little tike, I stepped up my pace to save what was left of my now bleeding ear drums. Little did I know, I would only raise more havoc to another of my senses. As I passed this family, they were obviously French from what I heard of their conversation. When I passed Mama, her swill du'jour almost bowled me over! I don't know what this crap she was wearing was, but I finally realized now that it wasn't screaming Junior that was killing off the sea gulls. I can only imagine that this perfume (for lack of a better term), that she must have bathed in before stepping out was called "Essence of Over-Fleau'd Le' Porto-Let!" It took me a block and a half past the purple haze just to be able to breathe again, and no, not because I was walking faster! I wanted to tell this woman that she took my breath away, but at the time, I couldn't speak either, and with the language barrier, I'm not sure she would have gotten my meaning anyway. If I could muster three words to surmise what this lady's toilet water (which was pretty close to what it really smelled like) was, trust me on this one, "oo-la-la" would not come to mind!
I passed one homeless guy playing a guitar on a picnic bench with a little white dog with him. The guy was actually pretty good! I turned to leave him a buck in his jar, and then I suddenly realized a couple things. First: he had no tip jar, and second, I don't think he was a homeless guy playing for tips. I think he was really just a disheveled slob who liked to play the guitar! The best part though was when he finished the tune he was playing and singing, right on cue, the little pooch started howling! What an act these two were! It's really a shame that Ed Sullivan is no longer around!
I suddenly realized my age when I was coming up behind, and was about to pass some girl in her early 20's, cluelessly yakking away on her cell phone and utterly oblivious to her surroundings (lucky for her it was just me, a harmless, overweight, middle aged schmuck, and not a ruthless, opportunistic mugger, because this kid was clearly an easy mark!). She suddenly decided to hang a quick right directly in front of me. (Had she been driving, I have a feeling this was the same sort that would still be on the cell phone, and would still be making sudden turns without signaling!) We both momentarily stopped before colliding. I said, "Excuse me," and she looked at me, smiled, and said, "My bad." Where did this "My bad" nonsense begin? Wasn't that originally something that little kids said? Now I hear adults saying it all the time. I think next time someone says that to me, I'll just stick my thumbs in my ears while waving may hands up and down, stick out my tongue and reply, "Na, na, na, na, na, naaa!" Have you ever wondered why other countries are now making more computer chips while the once great US is now making more potato chips? Start with, "My bad"!
But there is still hope for our nation. Besides divorced Daddy day, I think it was also science day. In at least four conversations I overheard, passersby were discussing astrology, the tides, marine biology, etc.. I guess they were motivated by the beautiful surroundings, all courtesy of Mother Nature, and all of it, free of charge. Many times, the best things in life still are free, as long as we are willing to look (and maybe actually shut off the cell phone, and put down the video game for a while!).
Then I passed at least three different groups of women who were loudly and unabashedly cussing and swearing enough to make a Marine Corps drill instructor blush. Much like the once great US, so much for what was once proudly known as "the kinder, gentler sex." For what I heard coming out of the mouths of these broads (and yes, I said "broads," and intentionally so!), you could have lit a match on the sandpaper they called their tongues!
I looked around me, and I saw rich folks dressed to the nines, poor folks, middle class folks, men, women, adults, kids, and in a couple cases, elderly couples casually strolling while holding hands, and still very much conspicuously in love as they were when they said, "I do" - and really meant it! I saw Blacks and Whites, and I heard people speaking English, Spanish, French, and several other languages, including at least a couple I didn't even recognize. And for every three people I saw, I must have seen at least one dog, too. And all these people (and even some of the dogs), were unknowingly actors in a diverse, wondrous, and even entertaining show of humanity, and all of us mutually sharing in what God has so graciously given us while we were all out "boardwalking." Some of these folks made me laugh, some touched my heart, and some just made me shake my head, and yes, some made me stop breathing or made my ears bleed! But all of them were still once again the greatest show on earth. And they always are. In at last that regard, people never disappoint.
Oh yeah, and the invigorating exercise on this captivating one hour jaunt wasn't bad by any means, either. For whatever reason, I guess maybe I forgot to mention that most basic component of this story. My bad.
Potato chip, anyone?