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A Random Post


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I like to watch…..No, I'm not some dirty perverted old man, hiding in the bushes with my plastic mac rustling in the dark. What I mean is that I am a fully qualified, expert-level people watcher. I am completely committed to observing folk in their natural environment and attempting to work out what they do with their lives. It is an underrated source of entertainment. Nowadays, with the smart-phone revolution making us completely unaware of the world around us, I sense the art is dying. If we are waiting in line, or taking a lunch break and especially if we are on public transport, out comes the phone, in go the headphones and goodbye the  world around us.Where's the fun in that I say? I much prefer to watch people surreptitiously and create a life story for them than play with my phone. I have always been fascinated by the people I see every day,  taking note of where I see them and what they're doing. The life and times of social media have created a fascinating sketch-study of how people perceive themselves. To look at the person's profile on Facebook, is to see a collection of ideals that person is hoping to be. It is a portrayal of themselves. An actor's portrayal of the life they really lead. The photos chosen for the profile picture are particularly relevant. People select an image for their profile picture that best reflects who they want people to see. The publicists of the world call it- 'Image management.' Brad Pitt tends to get the advantage of a stylist selecting a wardrobe for his every appearance, Angelina Jolie never has a hair out of place- pretty impressive when you have, what sixteen kids? The truth is we see the filmic version of their lives off the screen as well as on it. The romance of the character in a film is that they appear in the constantly exciting construct of a narrative. They lurch from one exciting moment to the next with no downtime to put the kettle on and have a cuppa and a Teddy Bear biscuit.Real life is not than linear. It is what we do while making other plans, as Lennon so perfectly articulated it. Facebook profile images are like fashion magazine shoots, they look good in cyberspace but how do you do that everyday? You don't, you simply live your life and that's where my fascination kicks in. People are a moveable feast of well-dressed and not so well dressed. Groomed and dishevelled, tired and switched on. Happy and sad. People amaze me and, I like to watch them when they don't realise that are being observed.Several moons ago, Cameron* and I sat at Chadstone shopping centre on a courtesy seat. We have always been huge fans of the shopping centre courtesy seats btw. I remember Eastland being the first centre to create a couch area in the middle of the centre and we actually made a trip there, just to sit in this faux lounge room setting and talk aimlessly. If we're ranking them though, Safeway at The Glen used to have the best courtesy seat- At the end of the meat case there was a park bench style seat, right there in the middle of the deli/meat section….For no reason!  Needless to say, we made a point of going into Safeway and heading straight for the seat. A ten minute chat would ensue amidst the lamb shanks and ham hocks.Anyway, where was this going? Ahh, thats right. Chadstone courtesy seat, mid summer-Late night shopping. It was busy, as is the case in summer holidays. Families tend to head to the shopping centre, grab some dinner in the food court and wander in the air conditioned comfort. Fun for the whole family and, more importantly,  fantastic to just sit and observe. Kids chucking tantrums, dads looking fed up, mums hauling bags full of goodies. There are always tales unfolding everywhere, beats a soap-opera for melodrama. There's teenage boys trying to impress a gaggle of girls dressed to impress. Couples in various stages of romance- Hand-in-hand all gooey eyed, hands in pockets chatting about where they were going; or two metres apart both texting ignoring the other….The circle of relationships. You have posers, promenading in their finest outfits and trackydacks and thongs, just getting out of the house. You have the extremes all intermingling in the democracy of the shopping centre.So, there sat Cameron and I eating ice creams and enjoying the show…When suddenly Cam threw a whopping spanner in the works. Very calmly, as if he had not realised the implications of what he was about to say he ventured this pearl- From now on, we have to find something nice to say about every one that passes us. Just like that. The rules were changed. Now,  for a sarcastic, bitchy smartarse with a pessimistic outlook on life, that may have been perhaps the single greatest challenge of my life!  But fuelled with my double scoop boysenberry swirl in a waffle cone, I was ready to throw my cynicism aside and focus in on giving people the benefit of the doubt.Have you ever tried it? Seriously- Go somewhere busy, sit down and attempt to find a complimentary way to describe everyone you see. We didn't cheat once. We never got bitchy or snarky but we did find the task so enormous that at times we could only arrive at basic platitudes such as - Well they got here and that's an achievement or;  They've found someone to share their time with. It sounds harsh but sometimes the truth is, even though we base our whole lives around doing it; you can't judge someone just by looking at them for a split second. Looks are just that- A brief character sketch with no way of making that person whole without getting to know them. They are the equivalent  of profile pictures.Everyone, whether they are conscious of it or not,  dress and act out of a sense of belonging. You want to fit in. That's why I always admire the people who just don't conform.I went to high school with a bloke who was in a vampire-metal band (yep, really!)   He wore a goth ensemble, long black coat, studs everywhere and long, jet black hair. Not satisfied that this was enough he got  coloured contacts and had his canines filed into vampire fangs. Sure, he wasn't normal but to talk to him he was so….well average. He used to hang out at Forest Hill Chase drinking milkshakes and had an obsession with the girl who worked at the junk jewellery store. He'd walk past the shop constantly, turning as he did to ask you-' Did she see me? Did she smile?' It was incongruous, that's what it was! You expected him to be more Alastair Crowley, talking in incantations and warning you of the perils of the occult in a deep foreboding voice. (He also had a reflection, which while I never asked him, I'm sure pissed him off no end.) Point being, all the expectations of him being a freak weren't confirmed. I was slightly disappointed. Not unlike the time Trey Parker and Matt Stone talked about meeting Robert Smith form The Cure.  They were so excited to meet an idol and were all pumped up for the moment. When it arrived though,  they found Mr.Smith wearing tennis shorts and trainers. He should have been walking around miserably reciting morose poetry but he was dressed for tennis. They felt cheated.  Speaking of which, Alice Cooper is a massive golfing fiend these days and while in my minds eye he has a driver with a skull as the head and a snake wrapped around his shoulder  as he putts, I know he's wearing Callaway polos and that cap with the marker clipped to the brim….I need not meet him like that. (Oh and he's also an ordained minister- What happened Alice?!)All of this  is simply to make the point that, the people I encounter everyday, are merely snapshots and therefore become my ongoing story. I know nothing about them apart from where they tend to be at a given time each day and what they look like from one day to the next. I create a backstory for them from that. I am sure my lives for them are quite often much more exciting than the ones they actually live but by the same token, I bet sometimes they are cooler than even I can imagine. Mainly because, I don't imagine much for them- I just fill in the details of their life in the most realistic way possible from the available information. Interestingly, I tend to do this in a Sherlock-ian manner. Having been obsessed with the great detective in my boyhood, I can still conjure his voice as my internal monologue. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of reading Sherlock Holmes will know exactly what I am referring to- I see by the quality of the fabric in the gentleman's shirt, that he is a man of refined tastes. Therefore I deduce he lives in the leafy eastern suburbs and works in a high powered position on Collins Street. He will drive a  BMW M3 convertible and I suspect it to be red because, although the shirt is made of fine cotton and has a well tailored cut, with quality collar and cuffs, it is yellow with candy orange stripes! His penchant for lairy attire is an indication that he needs to noticed.To be fair, he is not the kind of gentleman that would interest me much, apart from what truly outrageous shirt he will surprise me with next. I find my interest peaked by the more inconspicuous amongst us. I used to get off the train every morning at Flagstaff station and buy  copy of The Australian from the same newspaper vendor. I would actually walk around the station to take the escalator up to his stand. Every morning he cheerily gave me a paper with a toothless smile and wished me a good day. He looked old but I suspected he wasn't. He was early sixties, if that, and he reminded me of a country bar fly. You know the character- Walk past  the front bar of any country pub in Australia and there they are, three or four blokes sitting at the bar that appear as a tablaeu- The down market Edward Hopper diner painting. (If that's at all possible!) They have become the furnishing,  without them the front bar would cease to be. Every now and then someone walks out as you are going past and a dirty cackle emanates from some ribald tale one is in the midst of regaling the others with. In that  moment your two minds collide. Instantly, the sight of old, weathered barflies in a front bar is one of pity. Sad alcoholics with nowhere else to be. Then you hear that moment of hilarity. They might sit there every night with nothing else to do but there is a strange nobility to be had in having company that appreciates you. With nowhere to be, you at least have somewhere you belong.Back to my man then- I had a mid-morning shift once a month and when I alighted from the escalator and made my way to the news stand that particular day, my gent was nowhere to be seen.  The stand was completely unattended  and I was instantly worried. Where was he? My little Aussie battler? What happened to his old and weathered, toothless grin and cheerly demeanour meeting me at the top of the stairs?  His battling on in the world with a nobility that made his job as  news stand attendant seem dignified inspired a terrific backstory within me.As I wondered where he'd gone my eye wandered to the cafe window next door to his stand….And there he was. Sitting at a table sinking a VB stubby. I didn't buy my paper that day and walked away saddened that my coins had probably bought him a mid-morning stubby everyday. I felt a little guilty that I was aiding and abetting his unhealthy lifestyle…. Then I got  the hell off my high-horse and realised that  I didn't know this bloke and more importantly he was free to go on enjoying his life any way he saw fit. The character I had sketched of him was of a bloke who was wronged by the world but just got up and kept fighting everyday. He looked like a country bloke, lost in the city, so I concocted a tale of him losing his beloved wife and having nowhere to go. His daughter who lives in the big smoke now, took pity on him and asked him to live with her family. Naturally, he got bored sitting around at home so he got out and did something to make a living.It was all very elaborate but completely fictional. He sold papers at a news stand and until I saw his sinking that little brown bottle, that was all I knew about him. After that I knew he sold papers and ducked into the cafe to have a quick stubby at 11am.More power to him,  but because he didn't play the game the way I had it mapped out for him, I felt annoyed. It made me realise that I needed to look at myself not at him. A wise man once uttered the wonderful phrase that being open minded is simply the act of rearranging your prejudices. We see the world, whether we admit it or not, in a series of preformed opinions. We understand society around us because of a collection of useful and not so useful concepts we have picked up along the way. Mostly from family, some from friends others from work collegues. Tidbits arrive from what you are told you in passing- For instance I was once informed by a complete stranger that deodorant causes cancer and believed it too. It was only when I thought about it later that the preposterous nature of the statement reared its turtle head from the shell. That's the domain of the sensationalist media as well btw. A Current Affair load it on nice and thick so by the time you peel back the layers of manipulation, if you ever bother, you find an empty husk. People believe the boat people are coming and that our 'way of life' is threatened by multiculturalism because that's the rhetoric that sells. I find no need to lecture you on it because there is no point. Either you want to go and find out more or you are content to believe. Either way I have no right to judge you. I'm just as ignorant as anyone about a great many things.Perhaps that's why I love to watch? I get to see people relatively unguarded in a public space and imagine where their world lies. At the moment I am fascinated by turtleneck guy. I call him that because no matter the weather and regardless of whatever else he wears, he has a turtleneck skivvy on. Normally cream, but the other day it was dark grey. He wears glasses on a chain and slicks his long, but thinning hair back very neatly Gordon Gecko style. Often he has a toothpick in his mouth and he is always carrying a bag  stuffed with books and folders over his shoulder. Where is turtleneck guy going? I normally see him in the shopping centre but the other day I encountered him walking through the park. Walking is not correct actually- He saunters. I love turtleneck guy. I hope he's actually an eccentric inventor, off to the library to research his latest zany idea. I'm hoping he's about to patent a concept for spectacles that fold up behind your ear, thus eliminating the need for a chain around the neck. If that's not true I don't care. Like I said, I just like to watch....

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