Saturday, July 11, 2015

Always Look Up

I look out my second storey office window and observe the comings and goings of the people below. Most of them don’t notice me watching. If they do something they know they shouldn’t, such as light a cigarette while standing directly in front of a huge, impossible to miss “No Smoking” sign right as an emphysema patient attached to a canister of oxygen makes his way through the cloud of smoke, they will look to their left and their right, behind them and ahead, but they hardly ever look up.

You should always look up.

I never feel the need to report the people I watch, although I suppose if I witnessed someone physically assaulting a child I might be more inclined to intervene. 

For the most part, though, I’m interested not only in the unguarded behaviors of the people outside, but in the opinions and assumptions regarding those behaviors by us watching inside, usually me and one other person, sometimes two; occasionally if the “show” is particularly lively we’ll call over a third or fourth.

If you get too many watchers, however, you run the risk of someone getting self-righteous and wanting to do something to stop the more dismal of the behaviors we witness. This will not do if you’re interested in observing a person’s behavior in his or her normal state in an effort to try and figure out why people do the things they do and perhaps glean some insight about yourself in the process.

You should therefore never interfere with the object of your interest or draw attention to yourself if you can help it because you don’t want the observer effect to kick in and change your subject’s natural course of action, possibly skewing your data and invalidating your findings.

On this day, I watch a woman I am familiar with named Florence, who, according to her, successfully completed a residential treatment program and has been clean and sober for the past 4 months. She is one of these tiny, loudmouthed people with pockmarked skin and a smoker’s voice that travels easily. I can hear snippets of her steady stream of bullshit. But she is a charming bullshitter and I don’t hold it against her. When you live in the trenches of society you have to find ways to survive, ways to feed the beast. The beast doesn’t care about your moral judgments.

She is talking with a group of people, including a twitchy guy I recognize as her user boyfriend she broke up with when she went into treatment, as well as a known “crack whore” who likes to jog around town in a bright orange bikini advertising her wares because computers are alien to her, newspaper ads are expensive and besides the local paper went out of business 5 years ago. The final member of the group is a notorious IV drug user, Troy, who, before he entered into a methadone program, financed his addiction, his beast, with petty crime.

He is also an enormous man with the stature of a monster, a face tattoo and an intense Asperger’s stare that makes him appear more threatening than it turns out he actually is outside the rumor mill and its fantastical fabrications.

All four of them are drinking from Tim Horton’s coffee cups and smoking in defiance of the aforementioned no smoking sign. They are talking over each other, boisterous, erupting in laughter every few minutes with a healthy dose of F-bombs, the noise of which rises up to our open window, beckoning me from my desk.

My unexpected movement piques my companion’s curiosity until she can’t stand it any longer and joins me at the window (even though earlier she vowed she would not allow me or my extracurricular interests distract her today). Regardless, she immediately understands what has drawn me there and with an excited "psst" calls in Megan, who happens to be walking by our door. Megan is one of the few we trust not to get overly riled up by the show and ruin our cover.

Everyone else around here gets pretty excited when they see any of the quartet in question, but especially Troy, and rush about screaming that there’s been a Troy sighting! A Troy sighting! Lock your doors and don’t walk to your car alone at night!

I pay no mind to the hysteria and walk to my car alone at night. It helps that I don’t believe the gossip that he’s violent and also methadone makes you lazy. I can't see him heroically rolling himself off the couch, wiping the drool from his cheek and blurry-eyed forcing himself to hike the miles of hill it would take to victimize me. I have nothing of value. It would not be worth all that exertion at all. I’m sure he knows this.

However, if you ask, with feigned disinterest I will tell you I walk alone because I have a passive, albeit fleeting, wish to not exist. Bring on the drug-fueled psychos. I don’t care (which I won’t tell you is bravado and not authentic indifference because I am attracted to the idea of not caring. Eventually I’ll get there. Fake it until you make it. I’m not a liar, I’m merely delaying the truth. I’ll reach my nirvana of apathy one day).

My feeling is that the universe has had its paw on my tail since the start of this dysphoric journey called life, and it makes no difference if I obediently sit still or flail about in a frantic effort to escape. None of it sets me free, anyway. Why waste my self-respect with compliance and my energy with making a fool out of myself when there is no hope of release? Thus, rather than allow complete dejection to set in as the world devours me, I say fuck it. Whatever. Pass me the bottle.

And this “whatever” attitude is what I feel when I witness Troy do exactly that: Pass the bottle. He furtively looks to his left and to his right, like they do, behind him and finally ahead of him through into the lobby window to make sure no one can see them through the hedge. He doesn’t look up and not for the first time I wonder if this not looking up thing is related to a loss of faith after a hard life in the trenches or is it that I’m not the only liar? If there were as many believers out there who claim to be believers, you’d think more people would look up.   

In any case, satisfied no one can see him, Troy digs into his backpack, pulls out a king can of beer, takes Florence’s cup, dumps out the contents and pours in the frothy liquid which spills over the sides, causing Florence to shriek with mischievous laughter. The other two eagerly hold out their cups for the same clandestine treatment. Troy throws the empty cans (he manages to use 6) into the hedge and the four of them clink their Tim’s cups, pleased with themselves for getting away with their rebellious acts against the social order.

The three of us silently watch this interaction until the four public imbibers stub out their cigarette butts, toss them on the grass near the discarded beer cans and disperse.

I feel mildly disappointed Florence can’t maintain sobriety or stay away from her twitchy user boyfriend in the same way I feel disappointed over the shitty ending of a movie I’ve invested nearly 2 hours of my time watching, not because I was necessarily enjoying the movie, but because I was anticipating what I assumed would be a happy, redemptive ending, ultimately restoring my faith in humanity.

It seems I’m running out of things to have faith in.

Anyway, before we too disperse back to our corporate enslavement, with renewed excitement, Megan points to Bald Beggar Bob who has appeared seemingly out of nowhere with a ratty looking garbage bag and is digging in the hedge. He looks to his left and to his right, behind him and ahead. And just as I think there’s no way he’ll look up, he does.

We lock eyes and wordlessly acknowledge each other before he redirects his attention back to his salvaging endeavors. The other two jump around screeching, “He can see us! He can see us!”

It’s as if we’ve been found after being castaways for a long time and having lost all hope of ever being discovered.

I tell them I don’t think he can in fact see us and they return to what they were originally doing, leaving me standing there still, alone. To my surprise, as I note a wet sheen form on top of his bald head and drip down his temples from the light rain that has begun to spit, Bald Beggar Bob looks up one last time. He’s retrieved the sixth can and holds it up to me as if in a toast. I smile and give him the thumbs up.

Faith restored.

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