Reading, aka, People-Watching, aka, Eavesdropping

Today must have been the national "Bring your ENTIRE family to Barnes and Noble" day. It was like something you might see if an Indonesian multi-generational, communal family took the whole gang out to the market for the day. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, a strange neighbor who tagged along, and the pet chicken.

But blessings on Barnes and Noble, right? The one place where people from all walks of life and beliefs and even their dogs can all come together peaceably for hours of enlightened enjoyment. I read that in California this week there was a vote to turn Alcatraz from a museum into a "global peace center." The citizens overwhelmingly voted this down. And I would have to. Why ruin a perfectly creepy piece of history and a highly lucrative tourist spot to build a center for peace when Barnes and Noble exists? Barnes and Noble, I have decided, is a monument to world peace. Everyone gets along inside its doors.

Anyways, everyone got the memo today, and I gave up on reading and just watched people because there were way too many of them to do any good reading. On this note, it takes me a while to read books because I get so distracted. My rationale is, this book is going no where, but the old guys next to me arguing politics with their thick immigrant accents, loud and impassioned voices, and shots of espresso...well, I can only spy and eavesdrop on them once. And I find that most people and most moments are way more interesting than the book at hand.

Back to Barnes and Noble.

The first guy sitting next to me had an 8 year old son. This is my guess, eight years old. And this little guy was a hard core star wars fan. How Obi-wan kanobi and Chewbacca came into his life, I am not sure, but he was the most devout and committed fan I've seen in years. He was cute at first. The way cats are until they start staring at you and jumping off of bathroom counters to attack you with their grisly claws and all around cat evilness. He started off with one book, the new pop-out, 3d, star wars book (I only know this exists because my brother-in-law, also a devout start wars fan, got it for Christmas) and tried to show his very uninterested dad all the cool stuff inside. But dad never looked up. Five minutes later this little three and a half foot kid comes walking up with what had to be about 37 books in his hands that reached from his feet, where his hands were draped monkey style to carry them, all the way to his chin where he was securing them. I couldn't help but laughing.

He told his dad that he needed each of these books. When this approach didn't work, he resorted to screaming, and my favorite part? Dropping books from the second floor onto a ladies head below. This is when the dad finally did something. You don't want to laugh and encourage this kind behavior, but it was pretty funny. The boy was definitely not well behaved, but neither was the dad. Sports illustrated was way more interesting, and before you know it his kid is attacking old ladies with books. The things we will do for attention.

All this made the next boy who came up with his mom all the more cute. He just wanted one book. He was so quiet. And shy. And sweet about asking. He got a yes. But I think this is because his beautiful and incredibly tired mom was asleep next to me when he asked. She curled up in the chair next to me and pretended to read for about two minutes before her mouth gaped open, her left hand started twitching, and she was sound asleep. I used to think this was weird that people do this, come to Barnes and Noble to sleep, but now I just think it is American.

If you were in France or somewhere else European people would just be sleeping at home. They would not be so exhausted that they needed to sleep in a public store, or so overworked and on the go that there final resting place would be a power nap in the library...they would just call it a day and go home. Relax. Take a nap. Have a cup of tea. Get rested. But we've all heard the facts that Americans actually feel guilty for taking naps (or worse, we get bored with empty moments and down time), we work harder, and go longer than anyone else in the world. Our consequence? Our mouths gape open and we drool in front of pure strangers as we doze off on the subway, in the bookstore, during our massages, and even as we are sitting in church, at our office desks, in school, or if you are Bill Clinton, at the Martin Luther King ceremony on national t.v.

This lady was gone.

Finally there was another man sharing the space of four chairs with us. He was on his computer. I had decided not to like him right off the bat because he answered his cell phone and proceeded to have a long conversation in the middle of what was clearly a "serious readers only" section. But as he talked, and giggled, yes giggled, I wanted to like him. He was huge, a very big, overweight man in scraggly clothes, and he was blushing and giggling. How can you not like him, he was defying his own stereotype and proving that men, even big, intimidating ones, can giggle? After he finally gets off the phone he is vigerously working on the computer and making noises out loud.

I do this in the movies. "Oh no he didn't." "Oh my gosh." "Run, sweetie!!" "Idiot, call the cops." "Kiss her, please, just kiss her!" Ryan is generally embarrassed that I am talking out loud to the movie.

My little friend in Barnes and Noble did the same. "Well I'll be darn," "Hum, that's interesting," "Really?I would have never guessed."

Guessed what? What's interesting? What are you darned about? I was dying to know. He was a tease, saying things, exciting my interest, and then completely ignoring me.

I finally decided he was on MySpace. After I made up the complete story in my mind of what he was doing, which included finding long lost friends, planning tropical trips with buddies, and tagging people, I pulled myself together to leave.

A girl was watching me. Then I realized maybe none of us were reading. Maybe we were all just there watching each other and taking naps. Eavesdropping on the world around us.

Maybe if we eavesdropped more often, we'd love a bit easier. Smile a bit more. And realize how very human and real and fragile the people around us are. At least that's how it went today in my Utopian Barnes and Noble world.