My wife is in no way a racist, (this will be important in a few seconds) but she is an astute observer of human behavior. She can sometimes tell me EXACTLY how a person or group of people are going to react. She's a severe introvert so she's often sitting there watching other people and their reactions, and her ability to predict people's behavior humorously is a source of never ending fascination to me when she does.

We were lying on a beach in the Gulf of Florida the other day, when she poked me and motioned over to a small group making its way towards the beach. "Here come the Asians" she said, and it wasn't anything more than just a way to get me to notice a particular subset of the people making their way on to the beach, as opposed to making a point about Asians. "You watch", she says, "none of them will go anywhere close to the water. They'll just walk to near the water line, watch the ocean for a while, and then leave."

I was about to say something, but I am familiar with her near-preternatural skill in this regard, and simply watched.

The father was in his 40s, and he stood at the rear of the group, walking with his hands clasped behind his back, his receding hairline and glasses taking everything in impassively. Black T-shirt, dad jeans, dress shoes. His teenage son, not wanting to get his white cotton pants, trendy cotton shirt and shoes in any way dirty, looked like he was trying to levitate off the sugar-sand in the hope of not contaminating his clothes. Another kid about his age stood nearby, patiently waiting to leave, in a black T-shirt and more stylish jeans, a younger carbon copy of the father. The father by this point was wandering slightly back and forth looking frowningly at the ocean like it was a backyard he was making a laundry list of chores about to hand out later.  

The mother was wearing a very very unflattering set of wispy white cotton shorts that petalled around her thighs, and a light top. She was basically following the younger three children, taking photographs. The youngest, another introvert, took the opportunity of mom looking in the viewfinder of a camera to scoot off close to where we were, trying to blend invisibly into our midst.

Their second youngest, but not by much, was an adorable little girl who was the only one in any way dressed for "the beach" - she had sandals on and the kind of disposable shorts you could get wet. She was dutifully carrying a bucket and little shovel, but she never went any closer than three feet to the damp part of the sand where the ocean had touched it. Instead she grabbed handfuls of sand and threw them at the water. Her brother, slightly older than her, simply stood there and stared at her while Mom shouted instructions in English and took photo after photo of the kids in the sand and the ocean.

Keep in mind everyone else was in full beach mode: beached obese men and women snoring while sunburning in the strong Pensacola sun, lying in beach chairs with snacks close at hand. Young men and women, including an adorable interracial black/white teen couple playing and making eyes at each other splashing in the waves at each other. Young men bodysurfing on boards, or paddleboarding out where the water was deeper. Some collected shells.

Meanwhile the dad was standing inscrutably staring at the ocean like he was daring it to annoy him, and the two teenagers were trying to look like they didn't want to be there and were succeeding. Mom found the introvert and corralled him away from us, while keeping the other two kids dutifully throwing sand at the tide. They were a near-impassive tableau for about 20 minutes.

And then they started wandering off: the father started a slow walk back to his vehicle, and the teenagers rapidly joined him. Meanwhile the mother was herding the other three children towards their car, moving at an insanely leisurely pace. I watched enraptured as they in no hurried way wandered through the sugar sand, over the hill, and disappeared.

We left ourselves about an hour later, our skin starting to turn an angry pink from the sun no matter how much sunscreen we applied. From vast beachgoing experiences we knew our limit, and packed up and headed back. She idly pointed with the beach umbrella to a spot nearby.

"They parked there."

Sure enough, there was a parking spot whose former vehicular space was outlined, CSI chalk-around-corpse style - by discarded sandals and shoes, and the bucket and shovel of the little girl which had also been placed on the ground, outside the car as they stepped in.

"How the hell did..."

She looked at me as if I was asking a stupid question, because I was. She'd lived her entire life in Pensacola, Tampa, Clearwater, in fact she had only moved to the Atlanta area a scant couple of years before we met. She'd seen this scene play out time and time again and knew by their body language going in exactly what they were going to do.

Sometimes I wish I was so observant. It's a level of mindfulness that astounds me.

 

 

 

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