By Hannah Reich Berman
Â Sometimes human nature is slightly peculiar. Other times it seems downright bizarre. We have all occasionally exhibited quirky behavior, myself included. One shining example of odd behavior relates to the things that fascinate us and cause us to become spectators. Certain events and performances are meant to be watched and we are meant to be the spectators. But not everything falls into that category.
It is not hard to understand why those sitting in an audience would be enthralled when watching a movie or a play–provided, of course, that the movie or the play is one of interest. But even when a movie is not great, or a play is not as terrific as it was expected to be, having paid their money, most audience members remain in their seats and continue to keep their eyes glued to the screen or stage. When watching a comedy, they may chuckle or even let out a loud guffaw. In a movie theater, that is sufficient, but if it’s a live performance, whether it is a comedy or a serious play, the performers hope for a hearty round of applause when the curtain comes down. That is the extent of audience participation. We watch, we listen, we laugh or weep silently, and we clap when it ends.
Sporting events fall into a different category. Unlike movies or live performances, usually they are not categorized as either “good” or “bad.” A game is just a game, and fans are there to see it played. Another difference is that here, there is a level of participation from the spectators. They clap, shout, boo, or cheer. Some of the more exuberant fans will even jump out of their seats and wave their hands furiously while they are screaming. Fans want their sports heroes to perform well, but not all shouting and booing is for the players. Much of the anger and frustration is reserved for umpires or referees. Men will even scream at a television screen despite knowing that nobody can hear them.
Whether in the stands or in our living rooms, we keep our eyes trained on the football, the basketball, the soccer ball, the baseball, the tennis ball, or that elusive piece of equipment known as a hockey puck. There is no problem seeing a ball in the air–or cradled in a football player’s arms as he runs with it–but a puck falls into a different category. It is not easy to spot that little flat rubber disc. And since viewers cannot actually see the puck as it is being pushed along on the ice, they do the next best thing: they watch the player whose hockey stick is in motion as he heads for the opposition’s goal, and then they focus on the goalie as he tries desperately to keep the puck out of his domain. The one exception to sports-viewing conduct is golf, where spectators are expected to remain silent save for a small round of polite applause.
Another spectator event is a parade. We have them to commemorate Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Saint Patrick’s Day, and Thanksgiving. There are Italian American parades, State of Israel parades, Puerto Rican Day and Pulaski Day parades. Over the years there have been parades to honor war heroes, sports idols, or returning astronauts. Those who attend parades are willing to brave the elements. They will stand in the hot sun for hours (or in the cold to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade), and even brave sub-zero temperatures to be at a New Year’s Day parade or to watch (a non-parade) as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Bundled up, yet still shivering, people will be there.
But there is another type of spectator event. It is one that was never meant to be watched. It is not a movie, a play, a sporting event, or a parade. Yet it attracts spectators! Here there is absolutely no audience participation. People just stand silently and stare. They do not cheer, clap, boo, or shout. They do not smile, laugh out loud, or even take pictures. Not a word is heard among the viewers. Members of this audience do not speak to each other because there is nothing to say. But, unlike most spectators, these people are in motion. They move slowly from one viewing position to another. This is the little-known performance called a “car wash.”
I have no idea why anyone watches this, but people do. I watch it, too. As soon as my car enters the washing station, I step into a narrow passageway and then turn toward the glass window to watch the process. As my “golden chariot” is being pushed along on rollers, I accompany it on its slow journey. There is no entertainment factor here. There is no sound. There is no performance skill. Yet I watch as the car goes from being hosed down to getting spritzed by soap suds, a sight that is akin to a bubble bath. It is (hand) scrubbed clean by the workers. It is not an interesting sight, but I stick with it all the way. After the car is scrubbed clean, it gets a thorough rinsing as sprinklers shoot a copious amount of water in all directions. Once all the soap suds have been removed, the car goes through a drying process when it enters the next section and has hot air blown at it from every direction. This is part one of the drying process. When the car emerges, workers get busy hand-drying the car with large schmattes.
It would be hard to think of a less scintillating performance. Yet many of us watch it from beginning to end. It is one of the more peculiar aspects of human nature that some of us will watch just about anything. That’s the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.