Thursday, August 2, 2007

BEST OF: Posturing for the human-nature show

Figure this one out: We hate crowds, but we love going to county fairs, concerts, shopping malls, crowded street corners and similar hustle-bustle-busy settings.

Sure, we shop, eat fair food and listen to music. But in crowds, we get our real entertainment out of people watching. As husband Richard says, “Humans come in such interesting shapes and styles.” Temperaments and attitudes, too, not to mention wardrobes.

It is amazing how much difference the clothes can make.

Just imagine two twins — be they Bobsey or Olsen. Put one twin in nicely fitting jeans, a simple, tucked-in t-shirt that has met a washing machine once or twice in its life, and clean sandals or tennis shoes.

Then dress the other twin in a strapless, clingy top that stops short of covering where the bottom band of her bra ought to be, sockless feet in untied running shoes that look like gunboats and finish the costume off with some baggy, wrinkled, below-the-knee shorts barely suspended from her tush by good luck and imaginary push pins.

Don’t scoff. We saw both girls on a cable car in San Francisco.

Variety may be the spice of life in clothes and body styles, but within the limitless range of humans there is a remarkable similarity in the non-verbal language broadcast by those bodies.

I’ve written before about the oh-so-identifiable pose of someone trying to make a cell-phone call or trying to keep an ongoing one connected. You can spot it a block away.

Since then, other postures have come to mind, body positions that immediately tell the rest of us what’s going on.

People assuming certain postures might as well tack a billboard on their foreheads, proclaiming exactly what they’re doing.

For instance:

• The abstracted expression, determined stride and back-and-forth head movements of somebody wandering through a parking lot, looking in vain for the vehicle he or she rode in on

• The slammed-together eyebrows, total denial, hunched shoulders and abject misery of a 14-year-old boy forced to shop for clothes and shoes with his mother and grandmother

• The ultra-straight backs, stiff shoulders and popped-out eyes of a roomful of men holding in their stomachs as soon as a super-model type female walks into the room

• The mass clutching of belts, unsnapping and bringing of cellular phones to ears when the tweedledum music of an incoming call strikes, interrupting a packed public meeting or performance, and everybody tries to figure out quickly whose phone it is that’s interrupting the proceedings

• The tucked arms, rounded shoulders and mock-quivering lips of a child who’s playing up a minor “boo boo” for total attention, maximum sympathy and the 15th “Shrek” Band-Aid of the day

• The one-shoulder-higher-than-the-other, shifty-eyed, head-tilted pose of someone ordering liver-and-onions in a busy restaurant

• The stretched neck and back, tilted seating posture and raised chin of a newly seated restaurant patron, surreptitiously peering over shoulders of nearby diners to inspect what each of them is eating before placing his own order

• The “I can’t believe I’m doing this” facial expression and backward lean of someone taking a first foray off the pool’s high board

• The hunched-over posture and crowd-scanning over-the-blanket gaze of a mom who must nurse her baby in a public place

• The focused step-step-step stride, head slightly forward of feet and pained expression that advertises, “Don’t offer me a ride. I’m doing this because my doctor (wife/mother) says I have to do at least two miles a day”

• The total boredom and “Puleeeeeeeeease hurry up” expression of a man waiting for his wife by the door of the women’s restroom, especially at the abovementioned county fair or concert. Also its close relative, the can’t-stand-still hopping and twisting of someone at the end of a long line, desperately waiting to get into the same facility, or

• The “Heavens no, I’m not doing what you think I’m doing” expression, head position and arm-extended pose of a person waiting at the side of the road, holding the other end of a leash in one hand and an empty plastic bag in the other.

So, the next time you’re stuck in line, or are waiting for someone to arrive, check it out. See if you can figure out the storylines behind the postures.

Hmmmm. I wonder what that I look like when I’m doing that?

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