Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Saturday, November 25, 2006

People Watching People

(It's early evening. Nat and Max are lounging on the veranda outside Pangolo Junction intently observing the people passing by. Every now and then, they make a comment or an exclamation.)

Max: What about that one? What do you think?

Nat: Well, look at the way he's walking. It's fairly obvious that he's not from around here – look at how slowly he's moving and how he's looking from side to side, as if he's looking for a particular building.

Max: Nonsense. That doesn't mean anything – everybody has to proceed with caution around here, otherwise an okada can appear from nowhere and splash some of
Old Major's water on you. No – I think that he has an important meeting to attend, and he's going to the bus stop to get a bus to take him to the town centre.

Nat: How can you tell?

Max: Well, I caught him looking at his watch twice, so that gave me the clue about the meeting. I'm guessing that it must be an important meeting, because he seems quite well dressed for just a casual meeting.

Nat: Sorry, but I don't buy your theory. If he was looking out for motorcyclists, he would be looking at the road, but look – he's looking at the houses. And just because he's looking at his watch, it doesn't mean he's going to a meeting in town. He might have agreed to meet someone locally at a particular time. Ah, look – see, I'm right! He's stopping to ask someone something.

(Just then, Zack arrives. He is surprised to see them outside the Junction.)

Zack: What's up? Why are you guys sitting here?

Max: Oh, it's nothing. We just wanted to engage in a spot of people-watching while waiting for you to show up.

Zack: People-watching? What's that?

Nat: What else? Watching people, of course.

(Zack is puzzled at this.)

Zack: I don't get it. Why would you want to watch people? What's the point? Is it some sort of game?

Max: Ah, Zack, your incomprehension arises from the fact that you have not yet been introduced to the delights of people-watching.

Nat: The thing is, you probably do it in an unconscious way, but the true people-watcher takes the art to a whole new level. I'd better let Max explain... me, I'm just a novice.

Max: Yes, as Brother Nathaniel has said, when you see people go by in your day-to-day activities, you probably give them no more than a cursory glance. But do you ever wonder about the multitude of stories that lie beneath that frown, that amused look, that excited face? Do you ever stop to think what could have happened to make that man put on his babanriga, or why that woman is tying her gele in that way today?

Zack: No – why should I?

Max: Ah... then you are depriving yourself of the wondrous experience of people-watching. That elderly gentleman you see in a well-worn suit with a pensive look on his face... he now becomes a man who wakes up today, his last day at the company he has worked at for thirty-five years. He slowly, methodically goes through his morning routine of prayer, personal hygiene, dressing up and breakfast. Then he brings out the old suit that he wears only on special occasions, a suit which has been dry-cleaned especially for this day.

He looks at the suit for a long time, full of conflicting emotions... sadness that a long and fulfilling part of his life is coming to an end, but happiness that he can now devote more time to playing with his grandchildren. Then he carefully puts it on, bids his wife farewell, picks up his walking stick and leaves his house for his place of work for the last time ever.

Zack (incredulously): You mean you can tell all that just by looking at someone? I don't believe you.

Nat: Well, part of it is down to the imagination, but really, the skilled people watcher can deduce all sorts of things just by paying attention to small details of the person's appearance or behaviour.

Max: For example, even if someone is wearing a fine suit, you can still tell whether he just using the suit to 'pose' or whether he really is an all-round good dresser by looking at the smaller details of his dress. What about his shoes? Or his watch? Or his glasses - if he's wearing any?

Zack: So... what you are saying is that People-Watching 101 is one of the courses you need to take if you are studying Confidence Deception at the University of 419. Or why else would you want to know details of someone other than to use that knowledge to gain their confidence?

Max: Zack, why do you have to be so negative all the time? Of course the skilled people watcher becomes adept at detecting and interpreting every nuance of action of his fellow human being. How can he not be, when he spends hour after hour observing them at work and play, like a naturalist observing animals in the wild? But the true people-watcher will not debase this skill by using it for something so tasteless as fraud. No, he gets his joy simply from the challenge of teasing out someone's background story from the physical evidence before his eyes.

Nat: And there's also the joy of creatively filling in the gaps that cannot be explained by the evidence available. What work does the elderly gentleman do that he enjoys so much and is sad to leave? Perhaps it involves people coming to him for advice, making him feel valued as he dispenses it. Or perhaps it the work of a craftsman, creating something out of nothing and being able to revel in his status as a god amongst men.

Zack: The more I hear you guys talk, the more it strikes me that this people-watching is something that jobless people engage in. What material benefit does it bring anyone?

Nat (rolling his eyes): This is the problem with you, Zack. You're a solid dependable man, all right – but you're seriously lacking in imagination. Must everything bring about a material benefit? Please don't tell me that when you want to buy Lizzy a birthday present, you choose something like a pot or a blender.

Zack: As a matter of fact, I bought her a very solid saucepan for her last birthday present. One hundred percent non-stick and rust-proof. So far, I have heard no complaints.

Nat (exclaiming): A saucepan! Zack! (throwing up his hands in despair) How unromantic can you get! I'm sure she didn't say anything because she believes that you are beyond redemption.

Zack: Well, you can say what you like about my unromantic gifts... the last time I checked you were still chasing that girl... what's her name, now – Jennifer – and all your romantic wan-tin-tin techniques don't seem to have paid off.

Max (interceding): Guys, that's enough o! Zack, all right, all right – people-watching will not cure AIDS or bring about world peace. I never claimed that it could. It's just a fun way to relax and unwind that brings out the best of your creative and deductive skills. Obviously it doesn't appear to be your cup of tea – that's fair enough. But the great thing about people-watching is that there are so many different kinds of people-watching activity out there, so you might still find something to tickle your fancy.

Zack: Like what?

Max: Well, there's clothes-watching, where you pay special attention to the kinds of clothes that the people are wearing. What the material and design of the clothes are, where they might have been obtained from, what kind of combination of clothes are being worn, and what all this tells you about the person wearing them.

Zack (snorting in disgust): That looks like the kind of thing that only empty-headed shallow people would engage in.

Max: You're making a biiiiig mistake, my friend. The judicious observation of the clothing of a people that tells you a whole lot about the culture of the place more than a thousand sociology books could ever do. For a businessman like me, this information is absolute gold – it tells me which way the wind is blowing in terms of fashion and culture, and what would be a good deal to chase.

Nat: But if you don't like clothes-watching, there's always posture-watching - that's watching how people carry themselves. Are they marching with a straight back with arms swinging in time to an imaginary beat? Or are they strolling along with a smooth rhythmic motion, with their body rolling from side to side like they're the coolest guy in town? Or are they slouched up against a wall like they don't care about anything?

Zack: That's even more pointless than clothes-watching. Why should I care how people walk?

Nat: Well, being an expert in posture-watching means that you can read someone's body language and tell whether they are approaching you with friendly, indifferent or hostile intentions. If you decide that they're approaching you with harmful intent, that can give you enough time to prepare yourself

Max: Or if that is still not to your liking, then you can try body-watching. That is all about the appreciation of the human form in all its varieties – whether tall or short, thin or fat, male or female.

Zack: Ah. I see now – your motivation for people-watching now becomes clear. I presume that in your case, the varieties of the human form you're interested in are female or female, female or female, female or female.

Max (grinning): Absolutely! Preferably of the well-endowed variety.

Zack: But don't you guys run into trouble with this your people-watching? Are people happy for you to just stare at them like that?

Max: Ah, well this is the thing. The novice people-watcher will make the mistake of looking at someone as though he wants to hypnotise them. Nat, wasn't there that incident where you were threatened by one man who thought you were trying to put 'medi' on him?

Nat (embarrassed): I don't know what his problem was. I mean, he was wearing an agbada underneath a business suit – so he should have expected people to stare at him.

Max: Well, maybe your stare was the straw that broke the camel's back. But it wouldn't have happened to me – I have perfected the art of the unobtrusive stare, so that I can enjoy people-watching in peace.

Zack (scornfully): Well, I can't see you having that kind of problem, since your people-watching has less to do with watching people's faces and more to do with watching other parts of their anatomy.

Nat (hurriedly): Anyway, that incident taught me that it wasn't a good idea to look at people directly. So I've perfected yet another category of people-watching that I call meta-people-watching.

Max: Meta-what?

Nat: Meta-people-watching, or if you like, people watching people watching people. It's obvious that if a people-watcher is engaged in watching people, the last thing he's going to be thinking about is another people-watcher watching him.

Max: But does it count as meta-people-watching if the person who is watching a person watch another person is actually the person who is watched by the person he is watching? Does it not mean that there's an infinite loop of people watching because person A is watching person B who is watching person A who is watching person B who is watching person A...

Nat: Hmm... I hadn't thought of that. It also makes me wonder what happens in a reflexive three-way people-watching scenario where I'm watching you, you're watching Zack and Zack is watching me.

Zack (holding his head in his hands): Stop! I can't understand this nonsense that you're both saying. And please leave me out of your people-watching equations!

Nat: Oh, don't be so dismissive. I think you'll find that meta-people watching is a very entertaining activity. The other day, I was watching this person who was fully engaged in people-watching of the female body variety. The thing is, he himself was walking in the opposite direction to the subject of his observation, but even after he had passed her, his eyes were still so firmly locked into their target that he missed his footing and fell into an open gutter.

Zack (with a knowing look at Max): Well there's a cautionary tale for all people- watchers. Instead of drooling over what you cannot have and disgracing yourself in public, it would be better to engage in productive and meaningful activity.

(Just then, the man who Max and Nat were looking at earlier on approaches the three of them.)

Man: Hello... could you please tell me where Oni Street is around here? I'm supposed to be meeting a friend here, and I don't know this area that well.

(Nat turns to Max triumphantly and says "See? I was right and you were wrong!")

Man: Huh? What's that about?

Max: Oh, don't mind my friend. We saw you passing this way earlier on, and he made a wild lucky guess that you were on your way to meet someone here.

Man: Well he's right, but I'm not staying long at my friend's place. I need to get some information from him, because I need that information in an appointment that I have in the town centre in a few hours.

Max (turning to Nat and smirking): Ehen, Nat, what were you saying just now about me being wrong?


  • lol...this was funny.

    So do you blog watch?
    If you do can you tell a bloggers story through the blog?
    If you do, what's my story? :-)

    I came across another cyberspace personality that I know is you!

    By Blogger Nilla, At January 25, 2007 7:02 pm  

  • Hi Nilla,

    No, I'm afraid I don't - but there's an interesting field all on it's own.

    Now what would your story be? Let's see... I'd say you're a young Nigerian professional (or about-to-be professional) who's passionate about the country... you're a lively, optimistic and sociable person... and you're very, very into your music, movies and poetry.

    I'm afraid you can't tell much about me from my blog - in fact, I'd be worried if you assumed I shared the views of some of my characters (actually, I share some views, but you'd wouldn't be able to tell from reading).

    But since you've come across another of my online personalities (yes, I'm sure you've got the right person - from your blog I can tell you're smart enough to have figured that out too) then you'll be able to figure out my real personality and tell just how much of myself I'm putting into my three characters.

    By Blogger Atala Wala Wala, At January 28, 2007 3:46 am  

  • Yeah, you don't blog watch like Max and Nat people watch..
    I was thinking you'd be able to tell something that wasn't clearly/mildly expressed on my blog.
    The music, I'm not just into, I'm almost a It has played and still plays an important role in my life.

    I didn't think you shared the views of your characters, I thought you shared all the views of MAX! kidding.
    Your still a little bit mysterious to me, even though i can also tell a little from your comments on other blogs.

    Have a wonderful week!

    By Blogger Nilla, At January 28, 2007 5:06 pm  

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