I Witness?

The other night as I was watching a rerun of Law & Order: SVU, the ever-magnetic Mariska Hargitay was probing a witness for a description of a suspect to the latest crime of the week. The witness, although visibly shaken, was able to provide her with a pretty tight description of the individual: height, weight, age, ethnicity, tattoos, limp.
This got me wondering: just how good would I be if called to describe a crime scene? I started thinking about all the places I had been in the past week, and the people I had encountered. Store clerks, laundromat clients, postal workers, teens on subway, neighbors. And what I soon discovered is that, much to my disappointment, I would make a horrible witness. I’ve always thought of myself as an observant person, but this exercise made me realize that I only notice the most obscure of details.
I imagined the eager police officer and sketch artist, prodding me for something to go on, and frustrated that they had yet to even draw a head:
“So this man who stole the victim’s purse, can you describe him?”
“Did I say it was a man? Well… I guess it, uhh… yeah it was definitely a man. Well, I noticed that he had been eating Big League Chew earlier on the train. I didn’t even know they still made that! And he folded his newspaper in a weird way. He made it into a really small square, which I guess was just polite since it didn’t take up so much space. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Or a Cubs tank top maybe. Wait, no, that was the guy who sat there before him.”
“Mmmm hmmm… okay, ma’am, do you remember anything else? Anything more concrete, say?”
“Oh yeah! I almost forgot – his laugh sounded exactly like my friend Ryan’s!”
So now I’ve decided to treat every interaction in life as if I were walking into a crime scene. I check my watch every fifteen minutes, make eye contact with each person as they enter or leave a room, and jot down mental notes of any distinguishing characteristics or suspicious behavior.
July 1st – Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Chicago, IL
4:29pm: Caucasian blonde woman, mid-40’s, 5’3”, 135-145 lbs enters store. Grabs copy of Food & Wine, lets subscription card drop to floor, and doesn’t pick it up. Continues reading almost entire issue of Us Magazine before exiting fifteen minutes later.
4:42pm: Hispanic female clerk, early 20’s, shaved head and “What Would Joan Jett Do?” t-shirt steps behind counter. Proceeds to argue with male co-worker about who was supposed to re-shelve unclaimed pre-orders of Bill Clinton’s My Life. Takes sip from bottle of Sprite ReMix – Berryclear Flavor and complains that having to take an Econ class in the summer “blows.”
5:04pm: Caucasian male, late 60’s, 5’10”, 150 lbs slowly crosses street to enter bookstore. Suspect is wearing sandals with white socks and sweatshirt with wolf head on it. He’s carrying a plastic bag from Quizno’s that appears to contain a sandwich and bag of chips. Picks up copy of Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, flips to last page, and sets it back down. I follow him out of the store.
This time when Mariska comes knocking on my door, I’ll be ready.

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