We are all voyeurs to some degree. Not in the common English definition of sexual deviant, but in the traditional French voir, meaning, “one who lies in wait.” We are curious creatures who believe that if we see it, whatever it is, it will add to our base of knowledge in some way, or at the very least, provide a secret delight.
How else can you explain the natural tendency to stare at an accident, aware that as you peer between the twisted metal and shattered glass there might be a slim glimpse of the mangled body on a stretcher? Sure, we’ll say, “oh, poor bastard, so glad that wasn’t me,” on the outside, but on the inside, we say, “Wow.” And then tell all our friends.
Or the innocent peek into a lighted window while taking an evening stroll. Sure, we really just want to see how the homeowners painted the dining room, because that dark umber is so striking against the white trim. We also hope that we might see something else. If nakedness and feathers are involved, that’s fine too.
Consider the slight head tilt toward the conversation in the booth behind you. “They’re in a public place, if they didn’t want to be heard, they shouldn’t be talking about that,” we say. That disclaimer alleviates any guilt we might feel by paying such close attention.
These are all passive examples. A more active example is to actually coerce human nature by somehow manipulating it, and laughing at the result. Oh, how cruel, you say. How immature. Perhaps. But when we mock others, we reveal ourselves. So was the theory of Allen Funt, creator of Candid Camera. In his opinion, to “laugh at life’s little absurdities” was a demonstration in appreciation of the human condition.
During a recent gathering of Intrepid members at a writing workshop, we tested this theory.
Jael McHenry, Greg Cunningham, Matt - my husband - and I set out to explore the wonders of the San Francisco of the Midwest (Iowa City, Iowa) one Saturday evening. Matt regaled us all afternoon with tales from his college days. “My picture is on the wall here-look! See? I used to jump off that bridge there –see, that bridge there! And this the balcony where I…” -well, never mind that. We came upon one particular watering hole and he said, “and here’s where we used to super-glue a quarter to the sidewalk, then sit in this window and watch people try to pick it up.”
Now, how cruel is that? Gluing a quarter to the ground, snickering as people kick at it, pull at it and become frustrated with the process?
Naturally, we wanted to try it again.
Ever-resourceful Jael provided the quarter and, since we were sans glue, the gum by which to stick the quarter to the ground. We settled on swivel chairs at the counter set into the window, glasses in hand, and waited.
A quarter doesn’t buy much these days, perhaps some stale vendo-bubble gum, 15 minutes in a parking meter, or, if you’re lucky, half the cost of a payphone call. These college kids, used to plunking the original George W. into a previously emptied beer glass, aren’t easily impressed by loose change scattered on the cement. For a long while, kids in Keds and clogs and flops and Doc Martens hoofed right over our trap, never tripping the catch. We pondered “Can they see it? Or are we too obvious in the window? Why don’t they care?”
One young reveler – part of a bachelorette party, we think – flashed Matt and Greg, much to their surprise. Forget the quarter – this sitting in the window business just opened up a whole new world of actual and more stimulating voyeuristic possibilities. (For the record, she was bra-bound; it was a push-up white satin number.)
After a half-hour or so, with nary a tug on our line, we thought the pastime would just be reduced to ridiculing sorority girls (“I came in, but, like, everyone was asleep, so I, you know, thought I’d sleep too, but, like, there wasn’t anywhere. I mean, the sofAH, it was sooo nasteh…”) when Chance sent, well, let’s call him Bob. Bob, an average, white, middle-aged male and his date. Bob was casually strolling hand in hand, gazing at the tangerine glow of the setting sun, when a simple downward glance presented the quarter to his sightline.
Bob promptly jerked his date to a halt.
He contemplated the quarter, swooping close to consider the circumstances, rose to walk away, but then turned and poked at the quarter with his index finger. Oh. Ick. Gum. Bob rose again and moved along.
Quick to estimate the situation with precise clarity, Greg said, “Well, he isn’t getting laid tonight.”
The peanut gallery behind the glass was quite amused. A quick readjustment to make the gum less noticeable, to position the coin so it appeared as most quarters do when lying on the ground, and we again took our places in the window. Consensus determined that perhaps buckling over with snorts of laughter seemed conspicuous, so we vowed to maintain analytical control.
Until Chance sent, well, let’s call him Fred. Fred was at the edge of a throng of slow-moving ice-cream eaters. He was also an average, white, middle-aged male, only much taller and more slender than Bob. Somehow, Fred’s peripheral vision scoped the quarter after he had passed it – and he doubled back for closer inspection. Again with the swooping and poking. Again with the rising and walking away. But Fred, for reasons known only to himself, broke away from the pack to assess the mystery of the quarter once more, giving it a good swift kick before turning away in defeat.
We, stalwart in our pursuit of clinical observation, howled and hooted once more.
Dusk had settled on the sleepy college town, and the quarter wasn’t visible any longer, so we retrieved it and gathered our findings:
1) In 2002, a quarter just isn’t what it used to be.
2) However, average white men over 50 still seem to think it valuable enough to look twice.
3) Middle-aged men who do this while on dates will probably sleep on the couch if they’re married, or, if dating, sleep very much alone.
4) Sometimes you just have to make your own fun.
Our idea for entertainment was not original, but it demonstrated an example that we should all take into consideration when evaluating the complexities of human nature:
You never know when sometime, somehow, somewhere, some bunch of idiots will be sitting in the window laughing as you wrestle with an immovable quarter.
Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou
ABOUT TRACEY L. KELLEY
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.28.02 @ 9:58a
I think there was also a point when the quarter had to be repositioned because the skate punks rode over it and squashed it down, making the gum visible around the edges.
But I wouldn't swear to it.
In fact, this never happened.
Forget I said anything.
6.28.02 @ 10:19a
Yeah, I had to deliberate on the inclusion of the skate punks. Obviously, I didn't think enough of them.
6.28.02 @ 10:26a
when recently moving out, my roommates and I decided to place various items on the street to see which would get adopted first. It provided endless entertainment to the moving process.
My favorite test involved three paperbound volumes set side-by-side:
1. The 2001 tax code
2. Maxim magazine
3. High Times magazine
which were adopted in reverse numerical order... the #1 item taking a full 11 hours to be taken, while #3 was gone in 20 minutes. I'm not sure what to conclude, but it's funny anyway.
6.28.02 @ 10:31a
The fact that the tax code was taken at all is hysterical.
Especially since you *recently* moved out. Someone is pulling a Willie Nelson.
6.28.02 @ 10:57a
I was walking with a friend of mine one time in Boston, and I slipped on a patch of ice and landed in a bush, causing her no end of mirthfulness. For the next 15 minutes we stood right across the street from that patch and watched at least 8 other people do exactly the same thing. Not particularly nice, but I felt a little vindicated, and it was funny as hell.
6.28.02 @ 11:20a
What would someone do with the 2001 tax code? Prop up a table leg?
6.28.02 @ 11:28a
Go through it page by page and compare it to the 2002 tax code. Duh.
6.28.02 @ 12:00p
Yeah, I'm sticking with table leg.
6.28.02 @ 12:18p
In Jr. high we had a driver's ed teacher who was so addicted to cigarettes that he would get the shakes by the end of class. So he's always make up lame excuses to go have a smoke. One day we Super Glued one to the ground in the classroom. And it was funny how many times he'd loop by that spot and try to inconspicuously pick it up, or kick it near his desk.
6.28.02 @ 12:23p
That's great. My dad was once in a class where the teacher was smoking (this was likely the early '60s) and holding a piece of chalk. There were actually bets going on about whether he'd try to write with the cigarette or smoke the chalk first.
6.28.02 @ 12:29p
These things crack me up.
To me, Candid Camera was the original reality TV. And I have to admit, when I can catch it, ('cause I don't go out of my way or anything) I watch the new version.
A quote from my mommy-in-law on this column:
I really didn't want to
hear stories of my son's peccadillos, but they evidently served as
excellent fodder for the whole durn bunch!
At least she doesn't know the balcony story.
6.28.02 @ 2:03p
This would be the problem with your relatives knowing you write and wanting to read your "stuff".
6.28.02 @ 2:25p
Which is probably why so many write under a pseudonym.
Can I just say that I don't even care if "mirthfulness" is a word, I love it! Nice, Adam.
6.28.02 @ 4:08p
this shit is freaking hilarious!!! what better way to amuse yourself than seeing other people screw up! hehee...oh, the laughter....
6.28.02 @ 11:51p
A pseudonym? Does that mean you're not really Roger? What would your mom say?
6.29.02 @ 11:56a
It's all part of that spy game Roger has goin' on. So if he told us his real name, he'd have to kill us.
7.1.02 @ 11:08a
I would never kill you, Tracey. I guess I'd just have to relocate you in a protection prgram of sorts... Just how well known is that voice of yours?
7.1.02 @ 1:55p
For the record, the young reveler from the bachelorette party flashed ME-Matt was just lucky enough to be close by. I've got this eye-thing I do that women can't resist. You might've seen that hack Spock do something similar to Lt. Uhura in episode 48 of Star Trek.
7.1.02 @ 6:14p
Oh. My. God.
Roger - I can fake it. Ask Matt Morin. :>
7.1.02 @ 6:19p
You told me you never faked with me.
7.1.02 @ 6:24p
I'm that good.
7.2.02 @ 9:53a
Oh, right, Greg. The famous "Uhura flashes Spock" episode.
7.10.02 @ 9:33p
Oh jeez...I just watched my first couple of episodes of "Crank Yankers" on Comedy Central...I laughed a LOT - and now I'm ashamed.