Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Sometimes, you have to look.

Just two blocks from our church office, there's a little harmless-looking intersection in a quiet residential area that hosts two or three accidents a month. It's shocking to me how often I turn left on 48th and see those flashing lights up ahead, right in the always-same spot on that corner. To my knowledge, the accidents aren't usually serious. Once, a teenager plowed into a telephone pole, but he was leaning against a fence when I drove by, talking on his cell phone and gesturing wildly.

Occasionally, I'll see someone sitting on the edge of their car seat with a newly applied neck brace, talking to paramedics.

I had another opportunity to act maturely last week, and I blew it again. I really wanted to drive by with my head straight and my eyes trained on the horizon. And victory was right there, right within my reach. But just at the last moment, I swiveled and locked eyes with a sheepish-faced driver as he sat cross-legged on the grass, waiting for a ride or a ticket or a lecture. He was still sitting there twenty minutes later when I made my return drive-by, and again, while trying not to look, I swapped gazes with him.

Inside this body, I'm really twelve.

I'm working on it. But it's tough to switch yourself out of "have to know" mode once you've engaged. I find it difficult to not listen in on arguments at the grocery store or gut-spilling sessions that occur one table over from me at Starbucks. As a writer, I feel it's practically my duty to observe and report what's happening in the world. At least that's what I remind myself when I'm scribbling on the back of my Starbucks napkin.

I remember one evening at Rotten Ralph's, the now defunct and forever missed family cafe in nearby Arlington, when Dave and I settled in a booth to wait for our fries and chocolate shakes and I started scanning the room, the way you must when you've just arrived somewhere. I'd only taken note of a few interesting characters when my eyes landed on two to beat all the rest.

They happened to be sitting directly across the aisle from us, which posed an immediate problem for me. Staring from a distance of less than ten feet is palpable. It must be all that curious energy rippling through the air, but I've almost never been successful at staring from such a close distance. On this night, however, I had no choice but to throw caution to the wind.

The men were probably in their late fifties or early sixties. They looked to be farmers, or maybe it was just the overalls of the one and the suspenders of the other that led me to the conclusion. Then again, it may have been the matching John Deere hats they wore--or the fact that Arlington is farm country. It's not important. To me, they were farmers.

The farmer in overalls--gray and white striped bibs, no less--opened a fresh copy of the Little Nickel and started perusing ads. I didn't even have to look over his shoulder to know he was looking in the feed section. Probably took a quick gander at tractors before he turned the page. As he read, he chomped on a toothpick. I could tell whenever a particular ad caught his eye because he'd pause in his gnawing for a count of five, four, three, two, one, and then both the chewing and the scanning would pick up again.

The farmer wearing suspenders--and they were red--didn't bother with the Little Nickel. No doubt he had a barn full of hay already and wasn't the type to tease himself needlessly with tractor ads. For the most part, he sat and balanced his crossed arms on his very broad belly.

But here's where things really took an interesting turn. As I was sitting there soaking in all those lovely details (and scribbling notes, I must admit), the suspender wearer got a notion to groom himself. For some odd reason, it occurred to him that this might be the perfect opportunity to clean out his ears. I didn't know that's what he was thinking, of course, until he took out his car keys, surveyed the bunch, selected one--I think it was gold--and stuck it in his ear.

My mouth may have dropped open. I can't remember. But I do remember clearly that I had this little conversation with myself: Shannon, if you keep looking, you'll never be able to eat your fries ... Yes, I know, but I can't not look.

He swirled it back and forth for about five twists, and then he pulled the key out, held it up close and squinted at it, and then swiped his thumbnail across the groove to clean it out for the next go-round.

I wanted to stop looking. Oh, how I wanted to stop. But I didn't, and he didn't catch me, and he kept cleaning and cleaning and cleaning, and by the time our food arrived, I had, indeed, completely lost my appetite.

When I began this little post, I did so with a naive confidence that I'd be able to find a really powerful, really poignant ending to tie together all the loose threads I left along the trail. Interestingly, that didn't happen. So let me just leave you with a few tips, a few bits of random advice:

Drive safely--especially on 48th.

Try hard not to look, but if you must, be discreet.

And please, for all our sakes, use a Q-tip ... and don't make us watch.

27 Comment:

At 5/17/2005 6:51 AM, Blogger Fran had this to say ...

You made me giggle this morning! Thank you! I too have the worst time not looking. (At least now that I'm writing a little bit I can use your excuse to eavesdrop!) Rest assured, I will use a q-tip in a non-public place. That has to rank right up there with the people who floss right at the table after they've eaten. I actually saw one woman show what she'd pulled out of her tooth to her dining partner!

At 5/17/2005 7:00 AM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Now you've got ME giggling. That's a disgusting story, Fran. :)

I'm glad to hear you'll start grooming in private. I just never knew how to approach you about that ...

At 5/17/2005 7:33 AM, Blogger Fran had this to say ...

Does private grooming include clipping my nails at home? Because I find the best time for that is in church, preferrably when we're praying. ;)

At 5/17/2005 7:45 AM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

No, no ... that wasn't you. That was the "mad clipper." Really. I won't name names, but we did have someone save up all his nail grooming until church. Dave would be teaching, and everything would be very quiet, and suddenly we'd all hear "clip, clip, clip, clip" and turn and see him nonchalantly grooming away. He hasn't been with us for awhile ... and it's been very quiet...

At 5/17/2005 8:52 AM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

Until you start zipping up the cover to your bible! ;)

At 5/17/2005 9:18 AM, Blogger Bill and Glory had this to say ...

Aww, come on! If they're making themselves obvious they are clearly not shy about being seen or watched. Really, it's like those birds that preen themselves on the edge of a lawn or couples who argue in the middle of a street or dogs and cats that do unspeakable things in front of underage audiences. They WANT to be noticed! I think if I would have been there I would have pulled up a chair to get a closer look and if they asked what I was staring at I'd just say, "I'm waiting for you to pull out something REALLY interesting, like your brains." :)


At 5/17/2005 9:33 AM, Blogger Ellen had this to say ...

Shannon!!! You're hilarious! Thanks for the chuckle (I think!) I'm glad I already ate lunch!

At 5/17/2005 11:49 AM, Blogger emcrorie had this to say ...

This would be even funnier if it didn't sound like he might be a relative. :)

At 5/17/2005 1:19 PM, Anonymous Sarah had this to say ...

So glad I read this after my lunch - how gross! But I totlaly would've looked too.

Glad to know that I'm not the only one who not only watches other people incessantly but also decides what they're probably thinking, too.

Must be the writer in us:-)

At 5/17/2005 5:19 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Emcrorie, I've got a relative or two who come close to this description as well. :)

Sarah--it's a disease. But it's a great way to go, don't you think?

Hi there Ellen :)

At 5/17/2005 5:53 PM, Blogger Kim had this to say ...

Shanny - Gross!!! lolol My ears feel hurt in sympathy. I remember Rotten Ralphs. Maybe he felt like something so gross would go along with the name of the place.

Oh boy, I remember the "mad clipper". I don't get why on earth...

Fran - Yuck, flossing? lol
p.s. Try to stop picking your nose in your car, dear. ;) hehe Just kidding.

At 5/17/2005 6:34 PM, Blogger thequeen had this to say ...

48th is the worst.. I miss Rotten Ralphs soooo much they had the most awesome greasy bacon cheeseburger and the best fries on the planet!!! Have you tried Paradise Burger in smokey point? They come pretty close to the great food R R's used to serve up..
My mom always said " never put anything in your ear except your elbow".. When I do that I NEVER make anyone watch:)

At 5/17/2005 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

shanny, you made me laugh tonight! I sat down to read your blog and then the posts and the mad clipper!!! I remember! makes me laugh:) diana

At 5/18/2005 10:31 AM, Anonymous pjs had this to say ...

Oh Shannon.....you sure can make me chuckle and all I have to say is, "You know you're a red neck when......"

At 5/18/2005 10:39 AM, Blogger Teresa had this to say ...

I don't think you have to tie them all together. It is human nature for us to want to see things that are gross, or sad, or whatever else. We don't want to, but we do. This is probably why I cannot stop watching the news when it comes on. As well, I think that we could say that is the thing that the Devil tempts us with and how we get ourselves into trouble--our own need to look!

At 5/18/2005 1:18 PM, Blogger JOE B had this to say ...

My wife and friends are always telling me to grow up. Inside my body I think I am only eight.

One thing about car keys is that if you get one with an edge on it it can cut you. They should have tried a pencil with an eraser. Much better, I mean um, not that I have ever done that. I heard they should use a pencil. lol

Shannon, I wanted to ask you before I did this but I wanted to add your blog to my blog site. Is that OK?

God bless, Joe

At 5/18/2005 3:53 PM, Blogger whaaaat! had this to say ...

Just found your site and from this post I can tell I like your writing. I will have to check out the rest of your site. You give such great detail which makes you feel like you are there, which for the most part was a good thing. Too funny, but the best utensil for "diggin for gold" is a plain bobby pin. Perfect to hook and pull.

At 5/18/2005 5:35 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

You're all so ... so ... helpful. Now I have an assortment of back-ups to choose from when I discover the Q-tip box is empty. Thank you? :)

Hello Denise! I'm glad to see someone else who remembers Rotten Ralph's. I loved their 75 cent "baby" cones--the ones that weighed about three pounds. No one scoops like that anymore. I may have to blog about that.

Joe, thanks for the offer! I'd love to be linked site-to-site. I added you today.

Nice to talk with you whaaaat! And may I say I LOVE your blogger name? Very eye-catching. Or ear-catching. Whatever.

To everyone else: sorry for grossing you out. Not really.

At 5/18/2005 7:19 PM, Blogger Jimmy had this to say ...

Good thing you're in the Pacific Northwest where folks have manners. YOu know we southern boys can bite their own toenails so they can use their pinkie toes to clean their ears.
Isn't it curious how the oddest posts receive the most comments??
Thanks for making us all laugh (and cringe).

At 5/18/2005 8:38 PM, Blogger Hannah had this to say ...

What a gift God has given you - your writing is very easy to read and I enjoy it immensely. I have to say that the farmer you saw in Arlington could have been my husband. Except that my husband lives in Houston, is not a farmer and is only 30 something. I wish I could write that he does not wear overalls and does not pick his ears with his keys - unfortunately, those are things he has in common with the Arlington farmer. Now that I've painted a picture, I feel I must also include that he is the most wonderful, selfless man who loves God with his whole heart. THere, I feel better for telling you his secrets now!

I am eager to read your book - I currently facilitate a Christ-centered support group for women dealing with infertility.

At 5/18/2005 9:22 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Yes, YES, Jimmy--you're right. If I want a lot of comments, apparently I have to write about something disgusting. I have plenty of those stories, so now that I know the rules, I'll have to pull them out.

Your post made me laugh. :)

Hello again, Hannah! Thanks so much for the nice comment. We'll check back with you in 30 years and see if your husband has grown into that farmer role ... :)

That's so great about your group! What a needed ministry. I would have appreciated such a group back when I was really struggling with that issue. God is good, though. He healed me in His own way.

I'm praying for you about your adoption. Keep me posted!

At 5/20/2005 11:26 AM, Anonymous Sharon of Jersey had this to say ...

Oh,Shannon you gave me a good laugh. I don't know when I laughed so hard. I can't imagine cleaning one's ear with a car key! Thanks for the laugh.

At 5/20/2005 12:24 PM, Anonymous Sharon of Jersey had this to say ...

I forgot about this Shannon here is another example of inappropriate grooming places. I used to help clean the church sanctuary on Mondays at a former church I attended. Every Monday I would find fingernail clippings on the floor at a pew where someone was sitting. One more example of inappropriate grooming.

At 5/21/2005 2:57 PM, Anonymous sally apokedak had this to say ...

Shannon, I just popped over after reading your post on the View. Glad I did.

I am so surprised that others have met mad clippers. We had one who used to clip her children's fingernails on Sunday nights. It was the oddest thing. Or I thought it was the oddest thing. Now I'm finding out it's a common custom. Yikes.

Thanks for the laughs.

At 5/21/2005 4:30 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Hello Sharon and Sally :)

Isn't it amazing how many in-church nail clippers are out there? I couldn't imagine doing that ... not in a million years.

Thanks for the visit, Sally. :)

At 5/22/2005 7:44 AM, Blogger Tonya Roberts had this to say ...

I am laughing SO hard at your post! I, too am a people watcher and every now and then encounter something that I probably would have been better off not seeing. Once in a restaurant with my husband I witnessed a large family at a table beside us finish their dinner. The mother picked up a toothpick and proceeded to dig around in all of her teeth forever. The whole time I was thinking "yuck!" and wondering why in the world she would do that in public, when she finally finished her picking and digging and to my horror...handed the used toothpick to her son, who immediately began the same routine. Well...dinner was over for me before it began that night. I guess that's what I get for staring! Thanks for the good laugh and the walk down memory lane!

At 5/22/2005 9:21 PM, Anonymous susan had this to say ...

Your writing is so vivid that I could see the ear wax from here. I could picture the farmers so clearlt, they look just like the same farmers you see in every small town cafe!


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