If you stare too long at a person and they notice, you could find yourself in an awkward situation that requires, “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do”. This happened to me once when I saw the most beautiful little girl – she was maybe 4 years old – in a diner. I was eating alone and noticed her and her mother at an adjacent table. As a portrait artist, the human face is a wonderland for me and this little girl looked like a true angel. I didn't know I was staring like a creepy stalker creep, until I realized the mother was watching me carefully with a look that told me she would not hesitate to stick a fork into my eye socket if it came to it. In my mind, I was sneaking glances for future reference because I do a lot of angel images in my day job as a tombstone artist and it was less creepy than pulling out my phone and asking like some buck toothed hillbilly, “C'n I take yer li'l girl's pitcher?” What I did do is apologize and explain why I kept staring at her daughter, which seemed to help mama to relax a tad. All that being said, I'm a big fan of people watching and in my travels, I get the opportunity to do a lot of it. So here are a few stories about the interesting results from that activity.
I'm Michael Blackston and we're taking a deep dive into my Funny, Messy Life.
Canadians R Nuts
Because my travels take me along the coast of South Carolina, I find myself pretty frequently in the vicinity of Myrtle Beach. The actual business I do work for is in Conway, SC just outside of Myrtle Beach and to be honest, during the tourist season, I usually stay well inland away from the traffic and the crazy people who really believe they look like models in their way too tiny bikinis and shorts/sandals with socks combos. While it’s true that there are plenty of young people to look at whom, (I’m told) fill out their attire nicely, I'm a married man and thus, wouldn’t know for sure. What I can positively tell you is that for every cutie in dental floss, there are five others who picture themselves on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Addition (not that I would know what that cover looks like – I'm just taking a friend's word for it), when in reality, they would do well to grace the front of Ugly Tree Weekly. I can say that because I’m no Art Garfunkle either, but at least I know it.
However that message isn’t the focus of this article.
Canadians are nuts. There’s the central storyline.
Now before you get all angry and throw pieces of ham that for some weird reason you’ve decided to call bacon at me, allow me to explain.
Somebody informed the Canadians that we don’t have much of a winter in the deep south and by storming the beaches down here, they can take advantage of all the off-season golf and ocean wading at which they can shake a hockey stick. That’s fine for the most part. Our winters are mild compared to the Great White North and the golf in Myrtle Beach is second to none.
But the ocean in March is colder than Chilly Willy’s butt crack. And guess what? They’re out in it! Lean in closer … they aren’t just walking in cool sand at the edge of the water or even wading in to their knees. They’re splashing around in the waves like it’s July 4th and someone placed lit firecrackers under their fanny packs.
During the off season, I stay in one of the luxurious hotels along the oceanfront because during the winter, they’re hungry for visitors and you can usually negotiate a nice room for a stick of gum or a few cartoon impressions. So when I decided it was time to take a leisurely stroll on the beach after a long day of etching, you can imagine my shock when, after enjoying the sight of Canadians prancing gaily in the tide, I allowed the slightest morsel of foam to touch my toes and subsequently went into instant hypothermia.
I suppose I could have been more polite with my vocal reaction so that my northern brethren might experience the hospitality that was foretold concerning we southern gentlemen. But alas, I elicited a cry of, “SWEET MOTHER OF MERCY YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY NUTJOBS FROM THE COLDEST REACHES OF CHILLY WILLY'S BUTTCRACK!”
They appeared undaunted by my scathing remark and simply returned to their wave swells of frolic and merriment. Meanwhile, sea life jumped out of the surf and grabbed onto me trying to get a taste of my body heat.
I figure it would be about the same if I went up there next summer and turned on the heat. But have you ever felt cold like the ocean at the end of winter? Maybe you have.
Polar bear jumps.
Those are popular around here because you can get a group of people together and make t-shirts and everybody jumps in cold water to show some disease a thing or two. I’m not making fun; it really does help create awareness and serves well to poke people in their action bits. I’ve never done it myself, choosing instead to write or speak in a temperature controlled environment about the need to kick something bad in the junk. But I have close friends who have put on the trunks of our neighbors to the north and jumped into water fit only to refrigerate sides of beef.
I’m told the experience is something akin to this:
You arrive at the edge of a designated lake to meet with your fellow brave jumpers, all of whom are standing by the waterside breaking up the solid layer of ice so that no one gets caught under it, therefore creating the need to organize a follow up polar bear jump for awareness to not jump into water covered in a solid layer of ice.
Everyone comes equipped with a strategy. They see themselves running like warriors into the depths all the way up to their necks and treading the water in a happy aqua-dance of victory and good vibrations. Their tears of achievement will flow down their bodies and warm them because the cold discomfort is no match for their awesomeness. They'll then emerge from the lake in slow motion while somewhere in the distance the theme from Chariots Of Fire is played through a sky filled with bald eagles. While they were in the water, someone replaced all of their towels with American flags and they are draped in them as they are met by adoring supporters. As the music comes to a dramatic close, they gather the flags in their fists and raise them high above their heads, screaming “ADRIAN!”
At least that’s the plan.
What really happens is they get out of their vehicles, run to the edge of the water with their arms wrapped tightly around their bodies and jump up and down while nervously giggling with their fellow jumpers about how nuts this is. Someone says, “GO!” and they all run screaming into the water; some to their necks and some to about the topmost skin layer of one toe. They continue to scream as if they’re being torn asunder until they can take it no more and turn running back to the shore to roll and writhe on the ground wrapped in a towel. It can be considered a religious experience because God’s name is frequently mentioned.
In some cases, the ruckus may disturb a group of Canadians who have been silently resting completely submerged in the middle of the lake and they’ll pop their heads up out of the water like glacier moles and begin to point and laugh.
Differences in culture interest me and I know that’s all this is.
I was raised in an area of the world where some people will wear earmuffs when the temperature is in the high sixties. Canadians were reared under holes in ice ponds and are brought to the surface by grabbing onto a passing fishing line and yanked up by a burly fellow in walrus skins. If they see their shadow, they dive back beneath the ice and stay there for six more weeks playing Marco Polo with leopard seals.
That, or they drive down to Myrtle Beach and get a great price on a hotel room.
Either way, it’s just nuts!
Some places that are good for people watching are also good places to get a disease that will eat your flesh from the inside out. You have to weigh your options – get some good material or get leprosy. I'll take what's behind curtain number two, Bob! That's the game you play while making ...
Observations From The Waiting Room
Sitting in a doctor’s office is interesting, educational, and scary all rolled into one germ laden bacterial infection of an experience.
I know, I know – if I’m there, I’m not helping the situation and no one wants to suck up my funk any more than I want to suck up theirs. That doesn’t stop me from being a little judgmental as I sit and stare into the faces of misery that surround me on all sides.
If you’re a people watcher, this is a fantastic place to get your fix, but beware. Making eye contact is usually a bad idea. Sooner or later you’ll meet the gaze of someone who will take it as an opportunity to annoy you until the blessing of either you or them being called back into the land of alcohol swabs, tongue depressors, and needles that will "only sting for a second".
One recent visit has wielded a haul of personalities to observe, so let’s just jump right into the cesspool. This room was host to any number of these …
The “Shout It From The Rooftops” Loud Talker – I list them first because they command the attention of the room. They can’t be ignored, no matter how many squares of gauze you jam in your ears and cover with that medical tape that will peel the skin right off your flesh when you remove it. There’s no need to try and read a little from one the magazines that must be crawling with the "ick" of everyone who picked it up before you; you’ll not be able to concentrate. Instead you and all your waiting room buddies will be regaled with whatever happens to be on their mind at the time. It might be politics, it might be the details of the rot they have all over their foot, or it could even be tales of yore. The guy I was listening to wanted us to know how bad an idea it was to eat sardines and chase them with beer from a cup that's been sitting out for a couple of days. He thinks it's funny now. From the look on her face, the lady sitting beside him doesn't think it was so funny. However it manifests, you can bet that everyone in the building will be able to hear it.
The “How’s Ya Mama ‘Nim?” Church Saint – You haven’t seen them in a long time and you don’t feel like talking at the moment. Your head feels like it’s carrying about twenty tons of gravel and the pressure is causing all manner of liquid to leak from your nose. You wouldn’t have sat there if you’d realized it would be in the proximity of anyone you know, but because they always sit in the back pew at church, you failed to recognize them. Now you’re stuck smiling like a crazed hyena so as not to be insulting as you let them know the latest buzz about the exciting life of your extended family. You may try to throw subtle hints like being short and choppy with your delivery, burying yourself in a book, or screaming uncontrollably in fake pain. But they'll not be deterred in their quest for any glimmer of gossip they can sink their teeth into.
The “Hey, Buddy - Let’s Be Buddies Forever And Ever” Close Sitter – I usually find this to be a guy. I don’t know why, but I rarely see a female being a space invader in this way. He may be someone you’ve met before or he may be a total stranger. Whichever he is, rest assured that you’ll know ALLLLLL about him before the nurse comes to the door and gloriously shouts one of your names. Not only does he think you need to know every single sick detail about his condition; he also wants to show you. Go on …. Tell him you'd rather not because you honor his privacy and he …. really …. doesn’t need to. Wish as you like, but that conversation is moving by that time on the wheels of a statement something along the lines of, “Ain’t she a beaut?!” He has coffee breath, which would have been fine; you do too. But he has the talent to expertly aim his directly up your nose by leaning in so close to you when he speaks that you’d be doing well to squeeze a quarter in between you sideways. You’ll notice the need to apply the lunatic smile of a comic book villain with him as well if you don’t want to seem rude. There will also be a lot of head nodding on your part and the uttering of words like, “Mmm Hmm” and “Uhh Huh”. I like to toss in a sarcastically laced, “Yeppers!”
The “If I Sit In This Corner Quietly, No One Will Know I’m Kind Of A Leper” Introvert – I feel for them. They are probably not a leper. They probably simply have a cold, high blood pressure, or the flesh-eating bacteria I mentioned. The cute thing is they thought that by sitting in the furthest corner from the front desk and becoming as small as they possibly could that they might avoid detection. Sorry, but that won’t happen. This one was a younger woman who was being addressed way too closely by someone who wants to show her a nasty bunion and the look on her face was priceless. Poor girl. I suppose I could've created a diversion like a gentleman and got the close talker to come over to me by saying something like, “Man oh man, have I ever wanted to get a gander at a nasty bunion!” But I’m afraid I couldn’t. She kept the close talker busy and he wasn't bothering me, soooooo ......
The “Isn’t It Cute The Way My Small Child Runs Around Like A Rabid Gazelle?” Giggle Parent – There’s always at least one. You can’t blame the kid. Children run around like rabid gazelles. But as parents, our job is to keep that activity to the appropriate times and places. The waiting room of a doctor’s office doesn’t feel to me like the best place for that since nearly everyone in there isn’t feeling well and tends to be irritable. Honestly, I’ve never once witnessed a patient lash out at a child or a parent in this situation, but I know what I’ve thought behind the dark, snot curtains of my mind. The problem isn’t even a parent who is there for their own care but couldn’t get a babysitter and barely has the strength to chase their child. It’s the parent that thinks it’s funny and simply laughs when your foot - you know, the one wrapped up like a mummy that you’re there getting seen about - gets stepped on over and over again as the sweet thing circles your chair screaming, “I da indian, loo da cowboy!” So here’s a disclaimer: It Ain’t Cute! Your kid is cute, yes. As far as being a small human person with adorable little legs that move in blur-speed and tiny hands covered in peanut butter and spit, they’re swell. But your not doing anything to tame them in this environment when you could, but obviously don’t want to, well …. I hope the darling is twice as “cute” once you’re trapped with him in the insanely small room that will be your cell for the next seven hours while you wait for the doctor to come in.
The Old Person Who Has The Answers To The World’s Problems – I'll reference these people in the next story, but they deserve a mention here because there’s always one of them waiting to see their physician unless the waiting room is just one of their stops on the daily agenda designed to gather intel about who may or may not be about to die. They're also loud and proud with their opinions and usually have a great deal to say, aimed in the direction of the nurse’s desk, about the state of things in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and the way it used to be done in the Days of Good Ol'.
As for me, I fall into the Just Leave Me Alone And We’ll Get Along Fine category, but as I sat waiting for my name to be called, there was little girl in bows next to me who was adorable – and wouldn't stop looking at me.
Guess what, little girl, you just made my list.
One of the most often asked questions I get is how I find the time to write. Another biggie is where do I get my ideas? The answer to both of these questions is: The public, man – the public. Unfortunately, even then, there are times when ...
I Can’t Work Under These Conditions
One of the most difficult problems one runs into when trying to keep consistent content is finding a good place to create it. Ideally, the perfect place would be a quiet spot where the artist may shut off from the world around him and bask in sweet, sweet concentration. It’s a dream place devoid of to-do lists and needy toddlers and angst riddled teenagers. It’s a cave of darkness with only a desk, a computer, and a lamp – nothing else; no means of communication for the duration of the time allotted for good, honest creation. That’s the place that would be best, but it’s a place that does not exist for most of us.
So what’s the solution? Ask any guru and they’ll tell you that concentration and being able to be left alone to create is paramount to being at your absolute best. Unfortunately, all the artists I know are in the same boat with me. We don’t have a home large enough to dedicate the room that I've described. We don’t have careers that allow for that time unless we get up earlier than the birds. And although I’ve tried the early to rise technique, I have the aforementioned teenager and toddler that make getting to bed at a decent enough hour for that a near impossibility. What we’re left with is keeping our creative materials handy at all times and taking the opportunities when and where they present themselves.
I find myself many mornings at a table in a fast food restaurant typing away to keep up with the demands of having a consistently released blog. And it gets hard because old people gather at fast food restaurants to gossip. To be clear, I love old people and am on a fast track to that description, myself. But they're hard of hearing most of the time, so their conversations are delivered so that the hearing impaired are able to understand what's being said. That means I get to hear it, whether I want to concentrate or not.
It’s all around me. They sip their coffees and one by one they enter, taking the seat they’re accustomed to sitting in every morning.
The problem is that I get distracted listening to them because they can be so darn entertaining. A typical conversation will go something like this: (I’ll give the example in a play script style because it’s kinda my thing)
OM1 (Old Man 1) enters slowly, holding a cup of coffee, and sits at a small table with four chairs. He blows on his coffee and carefully takes a sip as OM2 (Old Man 2) enters from the same direction, also holding a cup of coffee.
OM2. COLD OUT THAYAH, AIN’T IT?
(I should interrupt to address the fact that since I am from the deep south, all dialogue will be bent toward a southern dialect, as it is the truest experience I can convey. Let us continue.)
OM1. S’POSED-TA BE THAT WAY FOR A GOOD PIECE.
OM2. WAD’N ALWAYS THATTA WAY.
OM1. NOW DON’T START IN ON THAT GLOBAL WARMIN’ HOCKEY.
(I should interrupt to explain that “hockey” is one of the words old southerners use instead of the “S” word. Lots of others do use the “S” word, but this is family oriented content. Moving on.)
OM2. I AIN’T SAYIN’ THAT, IT’S JUST COLD. MY HIP’S LOCKIN’ UP LIKE A DANG STUBBURN OL' MULE.
OL1 (Old Lady 1) enters with a cup of coffee and sits at a table adjacent to OM1 and OM2.
OL1. YOUR HIP WOULDN’T LOCK UP LIKE THAT IF YOU’D GO GIT YOURSELF WUN'NIM CORDA-ZONE SHOTS.
OM2. I DON’T NEED NO SHOT. IT’LL WORK OUT IN A MINUTE.
OL1. I’M JUST SAYIN’ IT AIN’T GONNA FEEL NO BETTUH TILL YA DO. STARTIN’ TO BE COLDER THAN I REMEMBER IT EVUH BEIN’. BRRR!
OM1. NOW DON’T START IN ON THAT GLOBAL WARMIN’ HOCKEY!
OL1 waves a dismissive hand towards OM1 and tries to carefully sip her coffee. OL2 (Old Lady 2) enters with a tray holding coffee and a biscuit. She sits across the table from OL1.
OL2. YOU KNOW WHO BELIEVES THAT GLOBAL WARMIN’?
OM1. AIN’T NOBODY GOT ANY SENSE BELIEVES INNAT!
OL2. THAT SMITH GIRL AT THE BANK. SHE AIN’T BEEN GOIN’ TO CHURCH, I HEAR.
OM1. YOU KNOW WHO ELSE AIN’T BEEN T’CHURCH LATELY?
OL1. I KNOW THE PASTOR’S WIFE OVER TO TH’FIRST BETHEL CHURCH OF THE NAZARINE OF GOD’S BEEN SKIPPIN’ OUT ON THE GOOD SERVICE AN’ GOIN TO THAT EARLY SERVICE.
OM2. THEY CALL THAT CONTEMP’RY.
OL2. THEY DON’T HAVE DINNERS MUCH AT THAT CONTEMP’RY SERVICE. PROB’LY SHOULDN’T NEITHER. ETHEL SNITFRENCH STARTED GOIN' TO THAT SERVICE AND NOW SHE BAKES THE AWFULLEST COBBLERS. GOT STUFF LIKE APRICOTS IN ‘EM. (Shakes her head – disgusted) I COULDN’T STOMACH IT.
OL1. NOW, I ALWAYS SAID IT AIN’T RIGHT TO BAKE A COBBLER WITH WEIRD FRUIT. KEEP IT TO APPLE, BLACKBERRY, OR PEACH. JESUS LIKES A PEACH COBBLER.
OM2. I NEED A COBBLER. MIGHT HEP M’HIP.
OL2. HOW’S A COBBLER GONE HEP Y’HIP?
OM2. IF M’SHOES FIT ME BETTUH.
OL1. THAT AIN’T WHAT WE’RE TALKIN’ ABOUT.
OM2. DON’T MATTER. AIN’T NO COBBLERS AROUND NO MORE ANYHOW.
OL2. AIN’T NOTHIN’ GOOD ANYMORE. WORLD’S GONE TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET SINCE THEY STARTED THEM CONTEMP’RY SERVICES OVER TO TH’CHURCH. THAT’S THE ONE THE PREACHER’S WIFE’S BEEN GOIN’ TO, Y’KNOW.
OL1. AND THEY KEEP IT S'COLD IN THERE SUNDAY MORNIN’S, TOO!
OM2. WELL YA BETTUH GIT USED TO IT. THEY SAY IT’S GONE BE COLD FER APIECE. WADD’N ALWAYS THATTAWAY.
OM1. NOW DON’T START IN ON THAT GLOBAL WARMIN’ HOCKEY!
How am I supposed to get anything done with all that going on in the background? I suppose I could put in some ear buds and write to the tranquil sound of a trickling brook or the soothing melodies of Pat Boone singing jazz versions of heavy metal music (it exists), but I’d still get interrupted somehow. There’s a lot to be said in favor of a man-cave, but unless someone puts me in their will and leaves me the keys to a manor with a secret dungeon behind a bookcase, I’ll likely never have one.
And after all, there is something sort of special about sitting at a table across the room from people who have amazing stories to tell and would probably be glad to share them if I asked. Perhaps one day I will get up the courage, but until then I’ll sit here and drink a cup of coffee as I try to piece together something that makes sense between the next jab at anything “new-fangled” and the complaints about the weather.
It is kind of chilly out there today, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. And I’d have to be nuts to mention anything about the global warming theory … I mean “hockey.”
The way the world is nowadays, you have to be careful if you're gonna do any people watching, but I'm gonna draw the line at being careful. I won't stop because it gives me too much great material. And if I get a fork in my eye socket, I'll just apologize and walk away, leaving a trail of blood behind me.
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