Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fish Out Of Water

This post comes by way of Lys from How Lucky We Are, who is a fabulous blogger friend who writes some of the most thought -provoking, completely honest posts in my Reader. She is also an amazing photographer.


I’ve always listed people watching as a hobby of mine. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, different walking gaits, outfits and clothing, and human interaction in general. When I moved to New York a year and a half ago, I pretty much hit the jackpot. I would go into the city to meet my boyfriend after work, and while I was waiting in front of his building, I would watch everyone that passed by. The after-work crowd is especially interesting because it’s a challenge to find someone who’s expressing anything other than fatigue, irritation, hurriedness, or loathing at everything around them. The long faces were so abundant that when even one person in one hundred passed by with a smile or a lighter step, they shone so bright, it was hard not to smile in the renewed hope that maybe the human race (at least in New York) still might be okay. There were only so many depressed I-need-to-get-home-before-I-kill-someone gazes I could take, however, so I turned to my neighborhood for new faces.

My neighborhood in Queens is mostly comprised of elderly Greek women and men whose favourite pastimes include smoking 8 packs of the stinkiest cigarettes they can find as fast as they can, yelling across the streets at each other in conversation, and congregating in front of shops and on street corners with lawn chairs and Chinese checker boards while gossiping about their grandchildren and arranged marriages. There’s only so many groups of these people you can come across before you become numb to them, so after a while I just stopped looking. Then, as I was walking home from the train one day a few months ago, I noticed a man standing on the corner of my street who I’d never seen before.

If I were to describe him as a sea captain, that might be enough, but I want to make sure I paint a clear picture. It was as though he had been ripped straight out of a book like Moby Dick or some children’s book on captains and fishing. He had the classic thick, tapered silvery beard and curly moustache, wrinkled leathery face, thick hands, and long stout sea-legs. The first day I saw him, he was wearing a yellow rain jacket with navy trim, matching navy rain boots, a yellow rain hat, and he was slowly smoking a long, dark wooden pipe. The best part about this whole scene is that it wasn’t raining, though it had been earlier, and he was just staring off into the distance with a dreamy look on his face. All he needed to complete the picture was a peg-leg.

Every other time I come across him or pass him on my way out or returning home, I can’t help but believe he is the epitome of the ocean. He just looks so out of place on land. He always wears nautical style clothing, from deck-shoes to white and navy striped polo shirts, from white linen pants to navy jackets with brass buttons. And he’s never without his long, curvy pipe, a little trail of sweet smoke curling from beneath his moustache. Occasionally he’ll have his cap under one arm, but it’s also nautical, being either navy with brass trimmings or white with navy trimmings. I would love to get a picture of him, but I’m always in such awe of his silent, calm, attentive demeanor that I forget about everything else. If I walk close enough to him, I swear I can smell the salt and hear the waves crashing on the rocks, the seagulls screaming at each other, and a wonderful sense of rolling along on the open sea flows over me. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever felt while admiring someone from afar.

Maybe I’ll pick up the courage to shake his hand or smile at him someday, and maybe I’ll ask to take his picture, but even if it doesn’t happen, at least I was able to experience the ocean in a way I never thought possible.

Is there anyone in your neighborhood that you wish you could meet or that strikes something in you every time you see them?

5 comments:

SoMi's Nilsa said...

Love this post! Love that you started people watching all over again! For me, there is a man I drive by all the time. He's always on the same street corner preaching to the world. With energy. And vigor. And sometimes a microphone. He always looks so happy and peaceful. Like he's in his own perfect world when he's preaching to anyone who will listen. He seems like he has a great story and one day I'd like to hear it.

Erica said...

I used to pass a park on my way to school several years ago. Every morning there was a man person doing tai chi exercises. It seemed like he moved in slow motion. It was so beautiful! Some mornings I passed and it was a little foggy, making it seem magical.

Auburn Kat said...

There is a really cute guy that lives a couple of doors down from me that I see EVERYWHERE! I've ran into him a bunch of times by my office building...we both know who each other are but we have never offically talked.

amanda said...

ah! i loveeee this. people watching is amazing. and in new york? it's the best! and your story? fabuloussss!

nory said...

Wow. I would have stopped and stared at him also had I seen him, especially since he's so... unusual to your neighborhood! Can't wait to hear what you come up with when you get back to WI!