July 27, 2005

Observation Deck

By Joe Speaker © 2005

I enjoy observing people. Much more than I like talking to them. For example, when I was younger, my friends and I liked to sit in trees (I swear), drink beer and watch the local adult softball leagues. We'd pick a player or three and discuss what we thought their life was like based on their body language. Being up in that tree was like being invisible. We could spy without notice, divine their deepest desires and insecurities while our subjects remained completely unaware.

Like the guy on the train this morning. He's a semi-regular who bears more than a passing resemblance to a red-haired Tarantino. By the looks of his clothes and demeanor, he's a back-room guy somewhere, probably a civil servant. Clean, but basic. Doesn't appear to get out much, his face a waxen pallor. And he's balding, a diminishing wisp of curl floating like an island at the top of his forehead, the rest of his coastline receding to reveal ribbons of pinkish flesh. He's in his mid-30s, hasn't had a date in a while, a fact that doesn't make him unhappy. He's not giving up yet.

This guy is clearly smitten with a blue-eyed brunette who sits in the same spot every day, as do I. She's cute, in an off-hand way. Not the type that makes you sit straighter in your chair, but there's a uniqueness to her look. Her freckled nose is too small, too delicate, and is overwhelmed by her other features. A regular scent of cocoa butter trails behind her when she takes her seat. She reads, though perhaps only on the train, considering how long it's taking her to get through that Grafton novel. She's young, no older than 25. Probably has a boyfriend somewhere who works construction and drives a truck. She works in retail or attends a trade school based on her causal look, today's jean shorts and tie-dyed tank top a typical summer ensemble.

Tarantino brusquely chats her up every time he sees her, makes an obvious presentation of himself. I can't hear what he's saying (iPod, you know), but he's eager, bordering on over-bearing, punctuating every sentence with a toothy grin and forced guffaw. She's responds nicely enough, smiles and nods her head, but it's only courtesy. She'll eventually marry the boyfriend, sacrificing adventure for comfort.

Today, he couldn't get near her. No open seat, not even a direct sight line. He was clearly perturbed as he barged his way into my bank of seats, lips set in a firm line. He obviously snapped open his Wall Street Journal, his eyes darting around the car. I stared across at him from behind my sunglasses, poker-faced, but amused. His paper was open, but he wasn't reading. He was scanning the windows to his left, hoping to find her in a reflection. The rising color in his cheeks gave away his failure and distress.

I continued my surreptitious surveillance, forgoing a quick nap for the drama unfolding before me, fixed by this pure human interaction on a subtle, but unmistakable, scale.

He's only on board for two stops, but, his lucky day, a couple of folks disembarked halfway into his journey, opening up seats nearer his intended. Buoyed by this development, he leaned forward, probing for eye contact. Her gaze remained rooted on the lines before her, however, and with an extended sigh, he slumped back in resignation.

She seemed to feel his attention on her and slyly glanced his direction a couple times. Just as quickly, she returned to her book, apparently relieved to miss his stare. She shifted away, toward the side of the car, and showed him only her shoulder.

At his stop, he stood abruptly, not caring that he whacked me on the knee with his backpack. He worked his way purposefully into the aisle, all overt movement. He searched her as he departed, eyes pleading for her attention, a simple smile.

I intently watched the scene unfold. She never looked up, never flinched, until he was gone. At which point she raised her head, fixed me with a stone glare and said,

"What the fuck are you staring at?"

I shifted toward the side of the car and showed her only my shoulder.

Joe Speaker is a writer and poker player from Southern California.

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