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Call Me Sherlock

January 14, 2011

You are on a metro.  You know, public transportation, much of it underground.  You are modern, mundane Jonah in the cavernous concrete belly of the whale.  You enter the train car, get squished next to other unfortunate travelers, can barely breathe sometimes, look at the garish orange seats and wish you hadn’t, watch the darkness whizz by and contemplate possible mysteries happening out there in the ether.  And, to stop from going crazy, you people watch.

Playing detective while in transit is fun.  It tests the mind’s ability to pick apart concrete clues and create narratives out of them.  At the end of a session of close observation you feel as if you know them minutely, as if they are slightly estranged, yet dear friend.

There she sits, one leg neatly tucked behind the other, her skirt made of brown wool.  Her face betrays her age despite and because of her suspiciously uniform brown hair just past her ears and her heavy foundation and skillfully applied eye shadow. Her large gold earrings remind me of my grandmother’s clip-ons.  Her plummy-red lipstick feathers gently into the lines around her thin mouth.  She is wearing a purple and blue silk scarf and clutches a Neiman Marcus bag next to her tiny purse on her lap, careful to not let it take up the space next to her.  The wedding ring that she unconsciously rotates on her finger is plainer than one might expect.  She looks forward, her chin up, with a small smile safely arranged on her face; she doesn’t respond as people move around her.

What can the modern detective derive from this woman, sitting on that metro car?  She is married.  She does not work a classic 9 to 5 for a living, as she is not wearing work clothes and does not have the purse space to be carrying them.  She holds a shopping bag from an expensive store and her ensemble is carefully put together, and yet she is riding the DC metro and her jewelry looks almost costume.  The most likely answer is that she is a middle class housewife whose kids are out of the house, whose time is now spent shopping in careful dollops, who tries to look like the rich and glamorous women on TV but can’t quite manage it.  She is comfortable on the metro, she rides it often: doesn’t respond when jostled a little, she doesn’t anxiously examine the map for the right stop to get off at.   But nor does she have a book to read or a friend to chat with.  She feels lonely and polite, with that small, proud smile, the seat next to her never taken.

Is this actually this woman’s story?  Who knows.  I don’t have the moxie to walk over to her ask if my observations are correct.  Perhaps they are dead wrong, a projection of myself into her shoes, rather than an accurate portrayal into who she is.

Or maybe the only thing I’m missing is the checkered hat.  And the pipe.  And the sidekick.

Come to think of it, I wonder what people think of the strange girl watching them on the subway?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Philip permalink
    January 17, 2011 10:28 PM

    Well, I always do this to people on public transit. They don’t usually look up though, so I guess I expect most of them aren’t doing it to me. But I could be wrong.

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