Cambrian: Slice of Life

Postures that advertise

This column ran first on July 8, 2004.

Figure this one out: We hate crowds, but we love going to county fairs, concerts, shopping malls, crowded street corners and similar hustle-bustle-busy settings.

Sure, we shop, eat fair food and listen to music. But in crowds, the real entertainment is people watching.

As husband Richard says, “Humans come in such interesting shapes and styles.” Temperaments and attitudes, too, not to mention wardrobes.

It is amazing how much difference the clothes can make. Just imagine two twins — be they Bobsey or Olsen. Put one twin in nicely fitting jeans, a simple, tucked-in t-shirt that has met a washing machine once or twice in its life, and clean sandals or tennis shoes. Then dress the other twin in a strapless, clingy top that stops short of covering where the bottom band of her bra ought to be and unsocked feet in untied running shoes that look like gunboats. Then finish the costume off with some baggy, wrinkled, below-the-knee shorts barely suspended from her tush by good luck and metaphoric push pins.

Don’t scoff. We saw both girls on a cable car in San Francisco.

Variety may be the spice of life in clothes and body styles, but within the infinite range of humans there lurks a remarkable similarity in the non-verbal language broadcast by those bodies.

In the past, I’ve mentioned the oh-so-identifiable pose of someone trying to make a cell-phone call or trying to keep an ongoing one connected.

Since then, other postures have come to mind...body positions that immediately tell everybody else what’s going on. People don't realize that when they assume certain postures, it's just like tacking a billboard on their foreheads, proclaiming exactly what they’re doing.

Consider, for instance:

The abstracted expression, determined stride, back-and-forth head movements and hand pressed firmly against the eyebrows of somebody wandering through a parking lot, looking in vain for the vehicle he or she rode in on.

The slammed-together expression, hunched shoulders, total denial and abject misery of a 14-year-old boy forced to shop for clothes and shoes with his mother and grandmother, especially if a classmate sees him doing it.

The ultra-straight backs, stiff shoulders and bulging eyes of a roomful of men holding in their stomachs whenever a super-model female walks into the room.

The mass clutching of belts, unsnapping and bringing of cellular phones to ears when the “tweedledum” music of an incoming call strikes, interrupting a packed public meeting or performance, as everybody tries to figure out quickly whose phone it is that’s interrupting the proceedings and turn it off, now please. Immediately followed by the quick intake of breath and a cartoon-style thought balloon over the head, reading “Whew! It’s not mine.”

The tucked arms, rounded shoulders and mock-quivering lips of a child who’s playing up a minor “boo boo” for total attention, maximum sympathy and the 15th “Shrek” Band-Aid of the day.

The one-shoulder-higher-than-the-other, shifty-eyed, head-tilted pose of someone ordering liver and onions in a busy restaurant;

The stretched neck and back, tilted seating posture and raised chin of a newly seated restaurant patron, surreptitiously peering over shoulders of nearby diners to inspect what each of them is eating before placing his own order.

The “I can’t believe I’m doing this” terror-stricken facial expression of someone taking a first foray off the pool’s high board.

The hunched over posture and crowd-scanning over-the-blanket gaze of a mom who must nurse her baby in a public place.

The focused step-step-step stride, head slightly forward of feet and pained expression that advertises, “Don’t offer me a ride. I’m doing this because my doctor (spouse/mother) says I have to walk at least two miles a day.”

The total boredom and “Pleeeeeeeeease hurry up” expression of a man waiting for his wife by the door of the women’s restroom, especially at the abovementioned county fair or concert. Also its close relative, the can’t-stand-still hopping and twisting of someone at the end of a long line, desperately waiting to get INTO the same facility. Or

The “Heavens no, I’m not doing what you think I’m doing!” expression, head position and totally detached expression and pose of a person waiting at the side of the road, holding the loop end of a leash in one hand and an empty plastic bag in the other.

So, the next time you’re stuck in line, or are waiting for someone to arrive, check it out. See if you can figure out the storylines behind the postures.

Hmmmm. I wonder what that “I spy” posture looks like?