Confessions of a People Watcher Issue #6: Small Experiences & College Blues

A Pickled Smile

If you were in a small part of Tennessee, in a particular supermarket, at a particular time last Saturday evening, you may have had the opportunity to watch a young man smile a rather goofy smile at a jar of pickles.

I was that young man.

The preface to such an oddity begins with sharing the knowledge with you, dear reader, that I have a love/hate relationship with public places; the ratio varies depending on the density of the crowd and the interesting things people do.

The crowd on that particular evening that I currently speak of was very dense, both in the metaphorical and literal sense. The movement was slowed to the crawl of an ancient land turtle, practically non-existent.

My shopping list was average: Sandwich materials, toiletries, various cleaning products, and some additional food products. One of the more extraneous items on this list were the pickles, Vlasic and whole because I’m a sucker for their version of that vinegary tang. That pucker. It was one of those items that you put on your list halfway through the week along with floss and bread because you know, even after all of your monetary cutbacks you’ve made, you at least deserve this jar of sour goodness.

There I was amidst the crowds that slowed with each passing minute; more often than not did I find myself pulling that all-too-familiar introvert move where, in lieu of politely asking them to move their ass, I’d stare at New & Improved Recipes for Prego. I learned about three new recipes that day, but I can’t remember the exact ingredients for any one, single recipe. It’d be interesting to see the monstrosity that would come of  of my recollection.

I know it would definitely be Italian, that I’m confident about.

I had all but given up hope for finding these things when I realized three things all at once: I had just crossed out the last food item on my grocery list (except for the pickles, of course) and I had been trapped in the aisle that I thought wouldn’t possibly contain them. International foods sat to one side and the sports drinks sat to the opposite. I had told myself that I would leave the aisle when possible and continue the remainder of the shopping trip without getting them.

No pickles for me.

That’s when you would have seen a young man look to his right, your left unless you were behind me, notice the jar of Vlasic, and pick it up like he had found his long lost son. He smiled like an idiot, too. I know this because I was there and offered an extra goofy one just in case someone saw me.After all, I had been stuck right next to them for nearly five minutes.

It would make for a good-humored story, a kid friendly one.

Pizzeria Dancing Lessons

I have a running philosophy that if you’re stressed enough to burn calories because of an overloaded mind, you’re more than ready for a milkshake. I love them, and I understand that they’re bad in large quantity. For me, it’s the equivalent of a girl in her mid teens discussing how her now ex-boyfriend is such a loser to her friends, a middle-aged man getting his first Viagra prescription, or the middle-aged woman married to said man that’s getting her first tennis or yoga instructor: it’s necessary to maintain one’s sanity, even if it falls  in the gray area of your self-preservation.

Anyway, I was at Sonic, where else, to get my milkshake. I won’t tell you what kind because it’s extraneous detail; the paragraph above is just a rant if I’m being honest, but what I witnessed in the rear parking lot of the pizzeria next door was something I would consider more that just interesting.

It was noteworthy.

The single beam of light behind the pizzeria was dwarfed by the light of Sonic, aweful flashy aren’t we, but the light was still illuminating a young girl. She looked in her late teens and stood shoulder to shoulder with a young man.

She was teaching him to dance.

I don’t want to make my opinion of the millennial generation too apparent, but I was proud, in the very least, because neither of them were holding onto their electronic dopamine dispensers; in lament, their cellphones were MIA from this activity. She was showing him something having to do with hip-hop, the style was written all over the moves. It was, in fact, to a people watcher having to sift through mountains of uninterested and mindless bobble-heads, noteworthy.

A middle-aged woman, probably the one that chose the tennis instructor, noticed me watching the young couple and probably scoffed. She continued staring me down after I glanced her, nodding in recognition of her disapproving eyes, and continued watching.

It wasn’t long after this that she started to say something.

She must’ve been blind, stupid, or had never witnessed the effectiveness of a window’s sound-dampening capabilities. I settled for an even mixture of all three. She was close, but she had still been talking rather loudly in my direction, so I indulged her and rolled down the window.

I spoke casually.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” I said, trying to sound genuinely interested and confused at what she had to say.

“I said, ‘it’s rude to stare, especially underage girls,'” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

I kept composure because I knew my intentions, I’m a people watcher, not a pervert. I wanted to tell a good story and this woman had assumed the worst. Such a worry wort. I took the look of a stupid man considering his actions, reproachful and shy to return an answer.

I gave her what she wanted.

I gave her the stupid man she knew she was correcting. In ways, it may be making the world a worse place that I can fuel that particular fire with pretty accurate execution, but I always try to leave them thinking something they might not expect.

“I was waiting for him to take his turn,” I said. There was innocence in my voice, artificial but effective. She gave me an odd look as the roller skating waitress found my window and presented me with my shake. I’ll give the middle-aged woman this, she was patient enough to wait until I was served and took the first spoonful of sugary goodness before continuing her gaze.

I knew she had been staring, but I gave it an additional two seconds before pretending to remember she was there.

I stuttered slightly while finishing my point.

“I want to see what kind of moves he’s got,” I said, spooning another lump of milkshake into my gullet.

What,” she asked, as if I had asked her why her face looked as twisted as a pig’s tail. It was by the way.

“Eh, I’ve got my shake now anyway,” I said, holding the medium cup in the air like a gold chalice. “Guess I’ll never know, but hey, remember: it’s rude to look at underage guys, too.” I drive away as she tried to say something else.

Granted, it wasn’t my best finisher, but it was something.


To be completely honest, I haven’t experienced a lot of it yet, and that’s what made my meeting today with one of the doctors working on campus very eerie. I saw two students my entire visit, and they left the building as soon as I entered.

The fall semester hasn’t started yet, so the halls were almost completely abandoned except for a janitor. Partial lengths of the building were under heavy construction, and the long, uninhabited hallways were like something out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

All-in-all, the meeting went as planned, resourceful and insightful, and everything is going smoothly. College will be a good place to continue these small ventures, but with few people for the day, the people watching pickings are slim.

Thanks for Reading!

Don’t forget to follow Quarterstories on social media platforms for more writing related posts, and check out the new Patreon page. The sooner our first goal is met, the sooner I can start pulling prompts from The Think Tank and publishing short stories based on your submissions. Check it out!

Until next time, dear reader.



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