If asked, my close friends would probably describe me as “oblivious”. In a way, they’re right. If I am out and about, I don’t really like meeting strangers or making introductions, so I tend to avoid eye contact and pay more attention to the objects around me. Don’t get me wrong, if someone friendly starts talking to ME, while I’m in line to get coffee, I will respond. But I’m not usually the initiator. Unless that person has children. Little kids are a totally different ballgame than grownups.
Sorry, I’m getting off track. Whereas some people like to watch people, I don’t watch people… because then they’ll think I’m watching them, and I’ll be embarrassed. So, I don’t notice when guys walk by, talking louder and acting macho, for my benefit (but my friend does). I don’t notice the woman that is trying to get my attention, unless she says something. I don’t realize that the elderly lady in the grocery aisle is upset or joyful… but if she asks me to reach something for her, I’ll be happy to do so.
I’ve decided that my obliviousness is partly natural (because I’m naturally shy around people I don’t know well) and partly ingrained habit. But the whole ballgame changes, if I’m paying attention. And when I’m paying attention, I notice all sorts of details, and have no trouble remembering them. How did I know how old you are? You told me, six months ago. How did you know my name? I read it on your student ID, every day, and paid enough attention to remember it. How did you know that? I was paying attention.
My job as a cashier has allowed me to create a comfort zone of sorts, where I know what is expected of me, and it doesn’t require enough brain power to distract me from thinking. I do a lot of thinking and observing, while I work. And like I said, when I’m paying attention, I remember what I see and what I hear. Of course, writing a blog helps, because you learn to observe and remember the details, because somehow, you’ll always find a story to tell. I don’t mean to tell tales on people, but sometimes there’s a story inside of what you see, told by a large group of people, not just one person.
When you see a person regularly, you can’t help but observe what they’re like. Ten months ago, I may not have noticed a thing about them. Now, I can recognize them at a glance, even at a distance, and from the front or back. And when you talk to fifty “regulars”, every day, but only have a minute (or less) to speak with them, you catalog away in your head what you said to them today, yesterday, and last week.
Part of the problem is, as a girl, everything relates to everything. So, already, this little thing reminds me of that little thing, which leads to this big thing, and did you know about such-and-such? I make connections, in my mind, on all sorts of subjects… and when you’re talking to people a lot, you look for the connections, so you can think of something to say for 30 seconds, on the following day. Because, again, I hate small talk, and the less I know a person, the worse I am at it. But the more I know a person, the more I can think of to say to them (and the less “smallness” there is about it). And then, I might just startle them by continuing a conversation I began three weeks ago, which they’ve long forgotten.
I hope I’m not already confusing you with my rambling, slightly disjointed post. Remember, everything relates to everything. : )
Where do logic puzzles come into this? I love logic puzzles, though I never reach the most difficult levels, because I do so much better with the information provided. Meaning, I don’t do so well when I have to lapse into supposition. Did that make sense? The easier levels of logic puzzles require you to guess at why Johnny was 2nd in line, but Lizzy was not last in line. Using the information provided, you cross off the wrong names, and eventually discover the right one. All based on fact and information that you KNOW.
The higher levels of logic puzzles ask you to find the answers, based on the guess that maybe Freddy was second to last…. or maybe Bobby was second to last. How does either option affect the rest? If you’re like me, it screws up all your other answers, making you forget what was reality, and what wasn’t. You can only solve them by guessing at one answer, in order to get the rest to fall in line (like in a Sudoku puzzle, but with words, instead of numbers). I like to deal with what I know. And yes, I can guess… but I’d rather not.
So, with plenty of brain space left for thinking and observing, even while conversing with students and counting out their change, I store away every bit of information that comes my way, especially from the people that I know the best. Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t try and remember things to be nosy or to make mischief. I do it because it helps me understand and know people better… and possibly, I might make a friend, eventually. Another co-worker doesn’t always remember what a regular customer said to her, two minutes after they said it. I want to know, how could she forget?
This information may never do me any good, but I’ll still have remembered it, and practiced my observation skills. Maybe I’ll be able to use it to write a fictional character, someday. Who knows? And sometimes, I can solve a mental puzzle that no one else cares about, but which satisfies me. And boy, do I need some mental exercise, when I’m at work.
For example, a professor said to me, “As they say in Germany…”, which led a co-worker to believe that he was German. Nope, he isn’t, I insisted. Why? Well, firstly, I’m pretty sure whatever he said in German was bad German, which means he isn’t fluent. No, I don’t speak German, but my dad does and my dad’s side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch (you know, Pennsylvania Deutsch). So, I might not speak it, but I know what the accent sounds like, know what the names look like, know quite a few of the word spellings (word person, remember?), and recognize it when spoken. This professor has a name that is NOT German, used an atrocious German accent, and I don’t trust anything he says, anyway, so it probably wasn’t even a German saying.
Some things can be figured out by the process of elimination. If you know where a last name is NOT from, you can narrow down where it MIGHT be from. The prof isn’t the first person I’ve done that with. And again, if you think about it, when you definitely know something is NOT something… it’s still something you know. Therefore, I’m still working from what I know (please tell me someone understood that convoluted statement).
Another example… two grad students disappear from the cafe for a week. It’s two weeks until spring break, so they can’t be on vacation. If one were sick, the other would still come in, and it isn’t likely that they’re both sick enough to stay home. They aren’t related, so if something terrible had called one home to their family, the other would still come in to school. Therefore, since they work together, they must be away on a business trip. Who cares, you say? I do. It was satisfying to come to a conclusion, and even more satisfying to find I was right, when they got back.
Today, a certain teacher came in and informed us that there had been a party for their department… and after the party, his car had been towed. Of course, he had to tell me about it in detail, but when he finally left, I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m sorry, maybe you’ll think that’s mean, but he’s the only person that would make me think that was funny. He gives us such grief, at times, I thought this was downright hilarious. The best part is, he knew why he’d lost his coffee card… because he had to write down the information of the towing company on it. That had me in a really good mood for the rest of the day, as you can imagine. But remember… there was a party.
Running with that piece of information, several grad students came in for lunch. They never come in at lunchtime, why today? I asked two of them, and both told me it was because of the party. Oh, I knew about that party. But what does that have to do with coming in at lunchtime? I finally went back to those grad students and tried again. Turns out, because they were out late at the party, they were up past their bedtime, and they hadn’t made lunches to bring with them today. So they walked across the street, at an unusual time, to have lunch. Now, the dots are connected in my mind, because that’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. And I’ve heard more about the party, by then.
Next grad student arrives, and I ask him where the party was at, because if asking about a party isn’t a splendid conversational gambit, I don’t know what is. He answered me, and followed it up with the response I mentioned earlier, “How did you know about that?”. Well, people talk to me, I respond in kind, and I listen, observe, and learn.
Who’s oblivious, now?