#320: PEOPLE WATCHING, A POSSIBLE IMPOSTER, AND AN IMPOSTER WHO ISN'T ONE ANYMORE, AT LEAST AS FAR AS IT CONCERNS ME
Since we are sunk into a deep winter pit during a large portion of the year here in Saskatchewan, there is a limited amount of outdoor activity that we get to witness for months on end. Aside from rushing between buildings and cars, most people keep to the indoors, which often becomes a circular routine between home, work, public eating and drinking establishments, and the gym if you are one of the more motivated types. About a year-and-a-half ago, I was in a situation that left me standing around in -35°C weather on a street corner for about ten minutes, and the only people I saw were the ones gawking at me out of their car windows as if I were some new species of fish.
In the spring, summer, and fall, I become one of the gawkers. Cityville is not a bustling hive of activity by any stretch, but seeing the small number of people that do come out and wander the streets is exciting. I know, I know. The fact that seeing people out of doors engaged in various activities is fascinating is more than a little sad, but such is life in a small prairie city. Also, I don't have cable television. I take my entertainment where I can.
I am a consummate people watcher. Their faces, clothing, mannerisms, voices, gait, etc. are incredible to watch moving together as one organism. I always wonder how all these things come together to work so harmoniously as to give the effect of a complete being. This is why I took note when I saw an older man at the inter-city bus depot making his way from one end of the ashphalt bus lanes to the other. His face, clothing, gait, and whatnot were not moving together in the usual unified chorus of your average pedestrian. He was not the concert of human body, external habits, and physical accoutrements that most of us deliver relatively effortlessly throughout our days. No, he was a loose grouping of bits of this and bits of that, tightly rock stepping foot by foot with his eye on the sidewalk thirty feet away.
His shuffle through the bus lanes at the depot looked more like a staged act than an afternoon stroll. He looked to be about seventy years old, but if his clothing was a costume, he could have been as young as forty-five. His hat sat too high on his head, as though it hadn't had time to settle around his ears; the black plastic vintage frames with comically convex lenses belonged on Crumb; his shambling gait seemed too tightly measured, and his cane did not cast itself as a convincing third leg. I wondered if the spirit gum under his moustache had grown soft and sticky in the heat.
It wouldn't really surprise me if he was an imposter. I've met a few imposters in my short time on this earth, and I have learned that there are many more of them than you might think. They presented themselves with assumed names, ages, and careers, and their ruses were destroyed quite accidentally, or I would have believed them to this day. These known imposters constitute a tiny percentage of all the people that I have ever met, but I think I have met enough of the poseurs to postulate that there are many more than we would even want to imagine.
When I worked at the Big Time Hotel, there was an older man who would come into the gift shop that I managed every few weeks. He always wore a suit and carried a slim briefcase. He would chat with me while he bought a newspaper or a snack. There was something very likeable about him, but there was also something a little off. It took me a long time to figure out what it was, but then I put my finger on it: he did not grow much facial hair, but what hair was there was left to grow in wispy little white strands in places on his chin and at the sides of his mouth. I had mistaken the wisps for a goatee when I had not been paying attention to the details. His grooming was not fastidious enough. It was after this that I realized he was telling me about meetings that were publicly dispayed in the lobby as though he were attending them, but I knew that he could not be. After noticing his facial hair, I started to notice the scuff marks on his briefcase and the slightly worn elbows on his suit jackets. Big Time Hotel had a history of people pretending to be rich and important around the lobby, and I felt a little sad that this man was one of them. I asked the bell boys about him, and they said that he never went upstairs to any of the meeting rooms.
A few months ago, I noticed him sitting outside an apartment building near mine. He was wearing a stained white tank top and barely salvageable shoes. He smiled at me. I guess he didn't need to keep up the game anymore. I looked away, because I wished that he had.
One of the most important things for an imposter is to be believed. You may not be who you are posing to be, but people believe in you. If people didn't take note of you before, they certainly do in your new guise. This is why it made me so sad to see the faux-businessman in the alley near my building looking so impoverished, tired, and milky-eyed. As a businessman, he chatted with me about meetings and the men he knew, he told me about how important it was to keep the humanity in your business decisions, he told me that we should go for lunch as mentor and neophyte. In the alley, he looked a little sheepish. I feel a strange guilt about the fact that I looked away when he wasn't what he had pretended to be.
I wonder if he still spends time at the Big Time Hotel lounging in the lobby and talking on a cell phone that is never on. I wonder if he talks to the new gift shop manager about how good she is at her job, how nice she is, how much her smile means to him every time he sees her.