You See But I Observe

16 Nov

No, not really.  In fact, I’m probably the least observant motherscratcher you’re ever going to meet or even hear about.  I couldn’t tell you what color my own shoes are right now without looking down at them, and speaking of that, all my socks are black.  Every single one of them.  It’s a system I designed long ago to address the fact that my socks never matched and I never seemed to notice.

When writers are portrayed in movies and television shows, they are frequently depicted as Holmesian Super Observers, like Jessica Fletcher.  Actually you know what, I can’t think of that many other writers portrayed as Super Observers, I guess I should have thought this through a little more carefully before I started typing.

There was Dean Stockwell’s character in The Langoliers, he was a Super Observer.  He’s the one who figured out that the plane they’d landed in was more real than the airport.  But you know, a show from twenty-five years ago and a TV movie that nobody saw, that’s not exactly a compelling majority, is it?

Well, screw it, I already typed the title.  And you know, I already did a post about all the things wrong with my face, so why not one about the various ways in which I am a moron?

For example, here’s a pretty faithfully transcribed conversation between my daughter and myself, from about a year ago:

Ellen:  Hi Daddy!

Me (walking in the front door):  Why hello there, darling.

Ellen (blinking at me):  …

Me:  Something I can do for you there, Cupcaker?

Ellen:  You don’t notice anything different about me?

Me (squinting over the mail at her):  What’d you get braces or something?

Ellen (folding arms): …

Me:  A tattoo or a piercing or something?

Ellen:  I’m eleven.

Me:  Can you go ahead and bottom line it for me?  I’m trying to get on the couch and watch a dinosaur movie here.

Ellen:  Dad, I got a foot of hair cut off.

Me:  Oh.

Ellen:  And it’s a whole different color.

Me:  Oh.

Ellen:  Curled it a little bit, too.

Me:  Well it looks fantastic.

Personally, I think it’s because I’m not so hung up on appearances, you know?  I see the beauty on the inside, man. 

Have you ever heard of the psychology experiment where they show you a tape of a basketball game and ask you to remember as many details as you can about it, so you’re sitting there trying to count how many times they shoot, what everybody’s number is, etc.  And then halfway through the game, a guy in a gorilla suit goes walking right across the court, and a significant majority of people do not notice him at all.

Something about concentrating too much on other things, so you block out the gorilla.  Didn’t work on me, though – I forgot I was in a psychology experiment and wandered off, got a hot dog and sat under a tree smiling at the sky.  That’s cause I’m so smart, see.

One time I was conducting a real estate closing – you heard me – in Cincinnati, and I went into the conference room and sat down at a large table and people started coming in, the buyers, the sellers, their agents, a loan officer, a jittery old lady who needed everybody to accept something to drink or she wouldn’t go back to her desk.  The usual crowd.

And while we were going through the  closing documents, I kept catching snippets of conversation from one side of the table or another, snippets in which birds were mentioned.

Well, only one or two people sign things at a time in a closing, so it’s normal for the rest of them to shoot the breeze a little while they’re waiting, but then I started hearing bird song.  I realized that it had been going on non-stop, like an air conditioner that you don’t notice even though it’s loud.

Weird, I thought, since it was seven o’clock at night in January.

Then someone mentioned birds again, gesturing behind me, and so I turned around and was startled to find that the entire wall behind me was an enormous bird sanctuary encased in glass.  There were little trees and wreaths and a waterfall inside it, and about thirty chirping parakeets and whatnot.

I mean, I came into the room when it was empty, from a door on the opposite side of the room from this thing.  Nothing.

So then a room full of total strangers was suddenly sitting there laughing at me – again.

I like to think of it as a defense mechanism – remember the peril-sensitive sunglasses from The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy?  They became opaque when danger was around, so you wouldn’t have to see whatever was so scary and dangerous. 

That’s me.  The fewer things that you notice, the fewer things you have to worry about.

But it’s a trade-off.  If anyone’s ever murdered on the train I’m riding, for example, well, they’re probably going to get away with it – don’t look at me.


Posted by on November 16, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag, Writing/blogging


Tags: , , , , , , ,

6 responses to “You See But I Observe

  1. Kimberly Kinrade

    November 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Hahaha, OMG how much can I relate to this? Sooo Much. I used to love Nancy Drew. Wished I could be like her. But mostly I was interested in reading her books than actually paying attention to stuff around me.

    Castle: a modern example of the observant writer myth. If that helps.

    I can’t cook. And I get lost going ANYWHERE! ( I mean that literally, I once got lost walking to school. To school. Seriously) If I don’t have a voice prompt from a magical device on my car, I am lost. It’s not that I’m stupid. My IQ is up there.

    So up there I am lost in the ethers of my mind. And entirely unobservant about everything else.

    Why should I pay attention when I get paid to make shit up?

    • thomaschalfant

      November 17, 2010 at 12:40 am

      Okay that’s the last straw – I’m going to start watching Castle just because you brought it up. I love that guy from Firefly and I keep hearing it’s a really good show. Yes, that certainly does help.

      Getting paid for making shit up sounds five million percent cooler than making shit up for free – well done!

  2. cocktailsattiffanys

    November 16, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    I love your word “motherscratcher” hahaha. Such a funny blog

    • thomaschalfant

      November 17, 2010 at 12:37 am

      Thank you! I think I lifted it out of Raising Arizona: “No! Not that motherscratcher! Bill PARKER!”

  3. ecossie possie

    November 17, 2010 at 1:31 am

    I was visiting a freind in hospital last month.I was deprate for a pee but every toilet I encountered said patients only,Finaly I saw one with visitors on it an rushed in.There were no urinealls so I entered one of the three stalls,One was already ocupied so I entered the middle one.After I finished Im at the sink washing my hands an in the mirror I see the stall door behind me open an a beutifull women emerges.I dont know who was more shocked me or her.Anyway talk about akward silances,Strange Im thinking I know they have unisex wards in some hospitals but unisex toilets is a new one on me.Anyway I exit as politely an swiftly as possable.As I leave an open the door I look at the sign again an it says visitors female.Honestly I never noticed the female on the sign.

    • thomaschalfant

      November 17, 2010 at 3:56 am

      Reminds me of The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglass Adams, when a woman sits down at a coffee shop with a muffin and a newspaper, then another guy sits down at the next table. After a moment, the man reaches out with out a word, picks up her muffin and takes a bite out of it, puts it back. The woman doesn’t know what to say and doesn’t want to have a big confrontation, and thinks maybe he’s confused about who’s muffin it is. So she takes a bite and scoots the plate a little closer or something. The guy doesn’t react. But a few minutes later, he takes another bite and scoots the plate closer to himself.

      Now she’s really freaking out and still neither of them are even looking at each other, neither of them saying anything. They continue for another round or two, then she polishes off the muffin, still the guy doesn’t say a word. Eventually he gets up and leaves. Then when the woman goes to leave, she picks up her newspaper and her muffin is under it – she was eating his muffin the whole time.


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