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Narrative Nonfiction (Literary Journalism) ENGL 8966

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"Did you do that?"

Dr. Lisa Knopp

Narrative Nonfiction 8966

Observed Scene

14 Sep 2007


“Did you do that?”

            How many drops does it take to stick one's fingers together with Super Glue? 

            As I pulled out the tube of the popular Super Glue brand adhesive from my backpack and opened the bottle, the tiny tip was inadvertently clogged from previous, unrelated uses.  To remove the hardened, miniature plug of dried glue, I needed a pin of some sort.  Other than the tip of my newly sharpened pencil, which I was loathe to utilize for purposes other than writing (pencil leads break so easily, nowadays), I had nothing else on my person with which to clear the tiny, finely pointed dispensing tube.  I peered around the mall from my wooden seat where I sat along the edge of the Westroads Mall center court, but nothing appeared adequate for the task.  So, I used my teeth.  Not a wise idea.

            Although teeth are, perhaps, among the first unconventional “tools” humans may have used a few hundred thousand years ago, it was certainly not the ideal tool to employ in this case.  The tiny dot of Super Glue that first emitted, to my subsequent great displeasure, from the three gram red and yellow tube was quickly and unceremoniously bonded to my lower lip.  And, by the time I discovered this, the super-adhesive, translucent dot was firmly affixed to my lip.  It was going to be a long time over the sink that night before I would have it painfully removed.  It didn’t take long before the glue’s brethren decided to join the act and adhere themselves to my thumb and forefinger after I applied four drops to the backside of a 1982 U.S. minted quarter. 

            Now, unwilling to be deterred in my task by such minor mishaps, I quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching me in particular.  I felt self-conscious.  Yet when all seemed clear, I arose from seat and nonchalantly placed the coin, Jefferson face up, on the hard, polished stone floor between Godiva Chocolatier and Helzberg Diamonds.  Then, I sat back down, pulled my red notebook, pencil, and one-liter beverage from my nearly empty black backpack, and watched the scene unfold.  It didn’t take long.

            It was almost noon that Sunday, and the mall was already relatively busy.  Within minutes after beginning to diligently observe the people and stores around me, watching everyone from two teen girls staring into the cases of jewelry along the outskirts of the jewelry store’s lease line to parents of two young children who had entered The Gap, the first “victim” of my contrived setting took the bait, like a fish lured by the promise of a big, juicy worm, albeit unaware of the hook.

            He must have been about 70 years old, tall, somewhat slender although it was evident that his gray and green striped, button-up shirt hid a few extra pounds brought on, undoubtedly, by age; he was likely a comely man by the standards of his generation.  The blue jeans he wore, quite new appearing, were baggy, allowing him great latitude of movement for what he was about to do.  Spying the seemingly fallen and discarded coin on the floor, he appeared to smile, if only slightly.  Then, the old man didn’t even look around before bending over at the waist to pick up the newly found treasure.  With knees slightly bent, the gentleman prodded at the coin with the tips of his fingers, all to no avail.  He attempted this three times before rising to his full height and placing the toe of his white and orange tennis shoe against the slender edge of the coin, seeking better torque.  The coin didn’t budge.  He appeared baffled, hands on his waist and head tilted in retrospection.  Even his wrinkles seemed to frown curiously at the suddenly perplexing situation.  Slowly, he pivoted his stance around the coin as if viewing it from another angle would allow him to better ponder the problem of how to remove the coin from the smooth floor.  He attempted twice more to move the object with his toe before moving off in the direction of Dick’s Sporting Goods.  His head flinched slightly to one side, the look of puzzlement and frustration turned to disappointment.  Perhaps he was thinking of what he could have purchased with that coin.  Still, he never looked back.

            At this point, my role as a passive observer was jeopardized as I nearly broke down with quiet laughter.  Like watching an episode from America's Funniest Home Videos, I could hardly contain my smile.  Simply watching the first among what was to become many “victims” somehow hurtled my mind from the present into the days of my youth, when similar high school pranks often provided an entire day's worth of near harmless pleasure for my geeky friends and me.

            Next, an older lady approached, peering at the coin as she leaned upon a yellowed wooden cane that appeared, to me, to be unnecessary.  She seemed to walk rather well.  She wore dark blue, polyester-appearing pants and a white and blue blouse with some small, unrecognizable gold-colored broach pinned beneath her chin.  She wore patent leather blue, closed-toe dress shoes with slight heels, further adding to the possibility that the cane was, perhaps, more fashion than utility.

            Using the cane, she tapped at the errant coin several times before bending down to retrieve the quarter.  Her backside, I noted, was much too large for the rest of her otherwise medium build body, and from the side it appeared as though she was a duck dipping its head below the surface of the water, tail splayed wide and high in the air above.  Yet her efforts, too, were to no avail, and after what may have been almost a minute of watching her attempt to pry the coin from the floor she stood, turned, took a few hesitant steps, then turned partly around to view the enigmatic treasure before proceeding down the hall.  Her face showed no expression throughout the entire ordeal, neither furrow nor frown. 

            Yet others there were who had completely opposing expressions, and of these, I could practically write a novel.  This scene was repeated many times during the subsequent hour that I sat there, noting how most of the contestants in the game were older than I, forties and up.  Yet nearly half of those who unwittingly participated in the event must have been retired, or close to retirement.  Gray haired or bald, tall or short, rotund or slender, it made no difference. 

            Soon afterward, another of these unsuspecting souls was a man about fifty years old with a touch of gray in his blond hair, well dressed in a cream-colored shirt, blue tie, and khaki pants.  He hesitated not one moment but bent down immediately after perceiving the lost treasure.  Hmmm, he seemed to say to himself, his brow narrowing when the coin wouldn't budge.  He tried again to pry it off the floor, then seemed reticent to attempt the feat again, glancing around  before squatting on the floor in what I thought was an attempt to get more leverage.  Still stuck.  But this gentleman, perhaps an employee on a lunch break from one of the myriad stores that fill the mall (he did have on some sort of name tag, though I could not read the inscription), was determined to persevere.  He must have spent three minutes attempting in vain to remove the silver colored coin from the floor, drawing a tiny, folding knife from his pants pocket (Are employees allowed to carry such items to work, I wondered?) and carefully working away at the quarter dollar.  No luck.  All the while, his expression grew increasingly focused, eyes narrowed on the task at hand.  It may have been my imagination, but his mouth was closed tight, and his teeth appeared to grind with each passing minute that the coin resisted his attempts to free it from its resting place.  When he arose, finally, appearing irritated and flushed with the effort, he dropped his hands quickly to his side, folded the knife and replaced it in his pocket, then glared around in suspicion, his eyes landing almost instantly upon my own as I stopped scribbling suddenly, self-conscious.  He took a few short steps as though to resume his original path before turning to speak.

            “Did you do that?”  he asked, pointing toward the floor.  It was an indictment.

            I sat there silent a moment before replying, trying in vain to hide my smile.  “Umm, no.  What?”

            But the man simply turned and quickly walked away, lost among the myriad bodies of shoppers as he made his way down the wide hall. 

            It wasn't long after this that mall maintenance arrived with a small, gray trash barrel on wheels.  There were cleaning supplies on the front of the cart, and with quite a slow gate, the small, Hispanic woman pushing the cart stopped in center court, perusing the floor, until her eyes spied the object of this recent mischief.  Without giving the coin a second glance, she withdrew a wide-blade putty knife from the cart and a bottle of what was presumably an orange-colored cleaning fluid.  She was quite short and didn't need to lean far to accurately saturate the coin with the spray, bending down afterwards to apply the knife to the coin's edge.  Still no luck.  At this juncture, the dark haired, dark eyed woman mumbled something inaudible, then practically sat on the floor, applying more pressure to the knife.  Back and forth, back and forth the instrument scraped, the shadowy reflection from the surface area around the coin now dull with scratches.  Nonetheless, after a short time, the maintenance woman finally lifted the little treasure from it's home and placed it in foster care inside her deep apron pocket. 

            Then, she turned to look at me unexpectedly.  Her facial expression was flat, emotionless.   But somehow, I felt the sensation that she knew who had perpetrated the incident.  Was it my look?  Was it the way I tried to purposefully avoid her gaze?  Or was it the security cameras located overhead which revealed my contrived scene?  I will never know. 

            Packing my few things into the backpack, I headed out of the mall, notes full and thoughts brimming with ideas to make this essay come alive.  But I couldn't help inwardly wondering . . . just wondering . . .

            What would have happened had I glued a silver dollar to the floor?

            The world may never know.

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