Wednesday, March 4, 2009

subway spying

As I intimated in a previous post, I'm an unabashed people-watching creeper. Growing up, Harriet the Spy was my idol. I desperately wanted to be Harriet's friend and sidekick, helping her spy on people in dumbwaiters, at grocery stores and from windows atop their cat-filled apartments. I even started my own version of Harriet's notebooks, copying down observations about my grade school classmates at recess.

I only recently became aware that being exceedingly curious about others isn't necessarily a common trait. I really don't see why not: people are absolutely fascinating. Details like a person's body language, choice of reading material, shopping bags, clothing and conversations with others can say a lot - it's like a little anthropological study into their life. Sometimes I find myself imagining backgrounds for strangers - what kind of family they have, how they make a living, if they're generous or stingy tippers. It's entertaining, it passes the time and it's harmless - I'm not following them home or anything!

Anyway, riding the subway is never a chore for me because I can easily spend the entire time looking around at all the interesting people I'm sharing the car with. (Especially babies. If there are babies near me on the train, I will make funny faces at them, hoping their parents don't notice. I only fantasize about stealing them and raising them as my own...)

Taking the F home from work tonight, I discovered a veritable jackpot for the imagination. I found myself playing a little game I like to call:

"Grandma, or Hip 20-Something?"

Basically, I found myself sitting squeezed next to a woman of uncertain age. Since I only looked at her out of the corner of my eye (the type of surreptitious spying where you stretch your eyeballs so far to one direction that they hurt rather than turn your head) I couldn't tell for the life of me whether she was a stereotypical Brooklyn hipster or an old granny. I began collecting and weighing the available evidence.

1] The woman wore chipped, bright yellow nail polish. As a rule, old women don't wear neon nail polish. +1 for hipster
2] She donned a long housecoat and bulky red sweater. No points awarded; "vintage" housecoats and sweaters from Beacon's Closet are worn by hipsters and octogenarians alike.
3] My neighbor propped one cracking leather maroon boot up on a pole in the car. The leather boot was a neutral style, indicating neither youth nor old age. +1 for hipster, older women aren't normally that limber or immodest.
4] She was wearing what could have been a rubber band (jewelry of choice for old women) OR a jelly bracelet (more often seen on young women) on one wrist. Inconclusive evidence; no points awarded.
5] The woman pulled out a succession of coupons from her totebags and scribbled numbers onto a yellow piece of paper. +1 for old woman. They LOVE coupons and scribbling on scrap paper.
6] A musky aroma was smelled in the area. This could be due to the effects of either "natural deodorant" or "many cats"... I felt it was probably the cats. +1 for old woman
7] On her ring finger, my seatmate wore an antiquated-appearing diamond ring. +1 for old woman; diamonds are soooo passé these days...
8] She wore glasses; I couldn't tell if they were black and heavy rimmed or bifocals. Inconclusive evidence.
9] Her hands weren't notably spotted or wrinkled. +1 for hipster
10] She wasn't listening to an iPod. +1 for old woman
11] The woman did not get off the train at 7th Avenue/Park Slope, where I reckoned she'd depart if she was a hipster. It is a very happening neighborhood, full of many well-dressed young folks. +1 for old woman

After all evidence was collected, I was relatively certain my seatmate was an old woman. Before I got off the train at my stop, I tried to catch a glimpse of her face. Sadly, the object of my concentration was neither an old nor a young woman: SHE WAS MIDDLE AGED! I was wrong on all fronts. She was also mouthing something to herself, so she may have been crazy.

Apparently I'm a shoddy detective. Guess I just need more practice. :)


  1. You got the "sneaky, making-funny-faces-at-other-people's-babies" gene from me - admit it!

  2. I really was expecting it to turn out to be a man.

  3. Same here, was kinda expecting a man :) and then you would have had to completely give up on your detectiveness.

  4. I actually realized as I was writing that it'd be funnier if it was a man. Sadly, I decided not to embellish.

  5. you are my twin... i was harriet the spy for halloween. i, too, started my own notebook filled with "notes" and "observations". i am the WORST about watching people ESPECIALLY babies. this was seriously the best blog entry i have ever read b/c it literally could have been written by me. let's be friends? k thanks.