Thursday, October 01, 2009

She Said She Wants to Be a Sociologist

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

About 12-13 years ago, I managed an adult video store in Queens called The Booty Shack. When my shift was over, I returned to Manhattan to hang out with my buddies. I'd bring over free samples of gonzo porn and we'd smoke marijuana from the local delivery service. The black guy who sold us the weed had a clothing business on the side. He just delivered pot for extra cash and "free smoke." Sometimes he would chill out and smoke us up and watch porn. He had awesome stories to tell about being a weed deliveryman.

Three of my friends shared a one bedroom apartment in Murray Hill. Like many one-bedrooms with hardwood floors, it was converted to a multi-bedroom apartment, one of the only way 20-something recent college grads could afford to live in that neighborhood -- even if Mommay and Daddy were picking up the tab. At the same time, landlords knew it was illegal, but they were able to charge even more from their tenants. Rat bastards.

Half of their living room was cut off and converted into two tiny bedrooms which looked more like dressing rooms in a retail store and barely had enough room to fit a bed. That was it. My three friends were packed into the apartment, where we congregated in a small living room where I wasted the most time in 1996-97 partying there than anywhere else.

One of my buddies had a real job in an office building in Midtown. The other two were law students. They were bright guys and diligent studiers spending a lot of time in the library, but when they weren't hitting the books, they had random blocks of free time for hijinks --like watching porn and getting high. Yep, these were America's brightest legal minds kicking back during their down time.

I used to get stoned with Ryan Mansfield and we'd stand on the corner of 33rd Street and Third Avenue. I loved the buzz as cars and buses and taxis whizzed by, and thousands of people passed us every few minutes. We loved to people watch. Ryan Mansfield was a total horndog and loved to ogle at chicks. Loved. All kinds. New York City, especially at that location in Murray Hill, had an excess of beautiful young things from all over the world strolling by.

Ryan Mansfield honestly felt that marijuana allowed him to peek into people's minds. I doubted his ability, but I know that the drug allows you to look at things from a different perspective. Most communication is 80-90% non-verbal so when you're stoned, you can sometimes pick up on a significant amount of the "masked communication" that you normally gloss over.

Ryan Mansfield really wanted to be a sociologist and not really a lawyer. Since he was a Jewish guy from Long Island, he felt the societal pressure (i.e. his parents) to go to law school and become a lawyer and make lots of money so he can meet a cute Jewish chick and she can latch onto him, they can get married, move back to Long Island, and continue the cycle.

One of Ryan Mansfield's favorite past times was getting stoned and watching people. Observing. Why do you have to go to a remote island in Samoa or blaze hundreds of miles into the Amazon jungle to study a different culture? New York City offers up its fair share of weirdness. In short, the city is a sociologist's wet dream where they can study both individuals and group behavior.

I can't help but think that studying Latin in high school and working as a security guard in museums were two random attributes that helped me become the writer I am today. Latin assisted with word roots and obscure NY Times Crossword puzzles. The security guard? That's when I perfected the act of learning how people act. I got paid to watch people and make sure they didn't do something stupid like put their entire palm on Van Gogh's Sunflowers. (And yes, I once saw someone do that. It took me a couple of seconds before I snapped out of my stunned state to scream at the guy. I never thought anyone would disrespect Vinny like that, but that chump did.)

I got paid to watch people and on boring days, that's all I did and scribbled down every minor detail. At the time, I obsessed over character descriptions. I used to have a tiny notebook and my goal was to record ten extensive descriptions of people I saw every day. I'm not talking about "middle-aged guy in a blue suit." I'm talking about a "40-something male with slicked back salt and pepper hair, the build of a heavyweight boxer with immaculate white teeth and a deep tan probably from a two-week vacation in Aruba. He wore a $3,000 tailored Banker's Blue pinstripe suit, most likely Saville Row in London. I couldn't tell which cost more money -- his Bruno Magli shoes or his Rolex."

I couldn't believe that I was getting paid to become a writer. At least, that's how I could justify the meager wages. The job was not rocket science but I could smoke all the pot I wanted on my breaks. It was better than wasting away in grad school.

People tend to look down on service workers in uniforms, especially security guards, so most of the time I was ignored by the masses and no one paid any attention to me. That allowed me to gawk and stalk without them being aware of the situation because in their mind, I didn't even exist and I was completely invisible. That aspect of of the job allowed me to observe, interpret, and record. How people walk. How they talk to others. What types of shoes do they wear? How do they handle themselves in public? I was interested in how people obsess over their cell phones (again this is over a decade ago when only a small percentage of the population actually had a cell phone and even then it was a bulky item and did not resemble the sleek and slimmer versions that we use today).

Some people walk around with their insecurities on their faces, while others pass by and give me the Willies. Every once in a while someone doesn't seem right. Something is odd or off. You know what I call those people? Aliens. Unsuccessfully trying to hide in a human body. New York City is full of them.

I missed those late nights when I'd stand on the corner of 33rd St. and people watch with Ryan Mansfield. Most of the time we didn't talk. We just stood there and watched... and watched...

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