The Bottom of HumanityBy Thomas Wood
January 09, 2010
One of the first things you might notice about people at the DMV—besides the most obvious, superficial aspects of race, class, and station—are the bottoms. It’s not that you’re into people’s rear ends – though maybe you are – but that there’s a kind of taboo to looking. At first, you tell yourself, it’s just a glance, but then you glance at another. You know, just for idle comparison, right? Pretty soon the bottom becomes the DMV’s version of a window into the soul, a starting place to see a person’s humanity, in their natural clothes, in their natural stance, in their natural attitude. I was at the San Francisco DMV when this happened to me.
There was this woman way ahead of me at the counter who was shaped exactly like the Penguin from Batman Returns–if the Penguin were inclined to wear a purple jumpsuit. Her bottom encompassed nearly the entire backside of her body, one shallow curve beginning around the high hamstring area before tapering off just below the neck. She moved her arms wildly like a conductor when she spoke, but as she turned her head I saw that she was all smiles. She struck me as a lady in control of her day, a rare sight at the DMV, and I liked her immediately.
Another woman, whom I overheard complaining about a registration fee, was roughly the inverse shape-wise: short and generally petite, but an imposing creature with undulating curves. Her bottom, having roughly the same volume as the first woman’s though on a much smaller frame, was the kind of bottom that men tend to whistle at, or sculpt, and indeed I found myself drawn to it.
It must have been her hips. The term “birthing hips” comes to mind, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Her stature was like a tangerine with a pencil running through it from top to bottom. It was that dramatic.
Adding to the effect was the opulent design of her jeans, the back pockets of which were adorned with strips of fabric and fasteners, all cinched horizontally from one cheek to the other, giving her bottom an efficient, packaged look that seemed more inclined to be addressed and mailed than admired from afar.
As I watched her I could see that most of her time at the counter was spent looking off into the distance with a stern, pinched expression. She didn’t want to be there. She had somewhere else to be.
Unlike the first woman, she hardly moved at all, just stood there anxiously, and I began to imagine her surrounded by trees, a doe in the wild, standing perfectly still, trying to avoid the sights of nearby hunters. I felt like the hunter, and sheepishly looked away, only half-catching sight of her passing by silently, no doubt heading to some nearby brook or stream. She must get looked at all the time, not just at the DMV, and I wondered if her face would relax that pinched expression once there was nobody around to look at her.
I was feeling a bit awkward then, trying not to look at anyone or at least not anyone in particular. Then there was a young Japanese girl. She passed me a few times as I stood in line and caught my attention. She was wearing a loose, oversized dress over mostly hidden jeans, a shapeless outfit about as revealing as a duvet. Later, when I finally sat down, waiting for my number to be called, I noticed her sitting across from me: Large, old-fashioned glasses, the kind your grandmother keeps at her bedside table, and wisps of long, brown hair hanging down, covering most of her face. She was a bookish girl, quiet looking, but intense in her gaze like an owl. She was watching people too, and I watched her steal glances at a dwarfish man who was standing across the way.
He looked like Santa Claus in the off-season, with the big beard and the red suspenders holding up a pair of hardy, brown pants, giving me the uncertain impression that he either had no bottom at all or was, in fact, all bottom. (The type of pants, I began to imagine, that would be appropriate for working in a toy factory.) His face was tired and steady like an old clock, until it lit up with pleasure, his eyebrows high and kindly, as he finally reached the front of his line. I kid you not, but his cheeks actually became rosy when he approached the woman behind the counter. The Japanese girl covered her mouth briefly. Maybe a cough, though she might have been smiling.
Eventually, my number was called. Even if you’ve been watching people the whole time, you forget to be self-conscious when it’s your turn. What am I wearing? How am I standing? What’s my attitude look like? You never wonder if people are watching you. You’re distracted by the call to stage.
I stepped to the window and leaned hard against the counter, feeling as though the further I leaned, the faster the matter would be handled. At the DMV, everyone leans like this, shamelessly, believing it helps. The myth persists because once you’re at the counter you are processed with surprising efficiency. It must be working. You lean-in harder.
I thanked the woman at the counter, leaned back, and turned to make my exit, along the way passing the young Japanese girl, her eyes now settled in front of her, apparently focused on nobody in particular. Then, as I reached the exit, I paused for a moment to turn around and take a photo, thinking it might be nice to have one on-hand in case I wanted to write about it later. As I did this, I noticed the Japanese girl, her neck now oriented to the right, eyes comfortably settled where my bottom had been moments before.
What an interesting insight into the world… I didn’t know one could learn so much from the asses of others.
I wouldn’t call it learning as much as profiling. But thank you for being so optimistic with my pedagogy.
My trick for the DMV: I go about 20 minutes before closing and I’m in and out lightning-quick.
But, I’m in a pretty small town, too.
(Hope I didn’t just jinx myself for next time…)
I’m always amazed at the sheer variety and assortment of bottom types out there.
You know those sweat pants that have a word printed across the butt?
Like, J U I C Y. Yeah. Can’t stand those.
So, I’m curious, do guys really notice panty lines?
If I went into the DMV 20 min before it closed they wouldn’t let me in. If they let me in, I’d be eating dinner there before I got out.
As for JUICY. Yeah, it’s run its course. I’ve never seen a more successful way of getting so many women to say, “hey, I don’t want to be respected as a person.”
It’s strange how, no matter where you are in the country, the DMV looks the same.
For a time, I thought DMV stood for Delaware Motor Vehicles and that we- lucky ducks!- were the only state to have one.
Hold onto that feeling. I’d like to believe there’s a lot of special, only-here places in Delaware.
People watching is endlessly fascinating and your descriptions made me feel like I was there. I loved reading this. 🙂
Much appreciated, Tawni. I actually have a longer version of this that indulged in about 12 little encounters and observations. In fact, asses didn’t really even play into the day, as a whole.
My favorite is the lady who was wrapped to be mailed and “had somewhere else to be.”
Who in his right mind WANTS to be at the DMV?
(I wish you took a picture of the penguin lady’s backside.)
Well, some people accept the DMV and others shift about. I think a lot can be learned from the tranquility some people show in the DMV. Do I smell a sequel?
I have to admit, I always thought that everyone was antsy at the DMV. The next time I go, I promise to carefully watch to see if I’m the only one who feels like time is being sucked out of my life.
You may even get an essay out of it.
Sequel, totally. 🙂
And the leaning thing. I always start to do that, then stop and wonder “why am I leaning into the counter like this?” Now I know!
The tendency runs amok at the post office too.
Ooh, post office. Nice one. I think an interesting photo project would be a collection of shots of people’s faces as they get called to be next in line.
Befores and Afters. Wonder how long til you and / or your camera got punched like a paparazzi guy.
[…] Please read the rest at TheNervousBreakdown.com […]
I’m a mean leaner…. Its excentuated by my height which causes me to either squat or pitch forward a bit at almost any counter. Granted, I understand that if they actually made counters at the height to which I could casually lean many people would be left standing on their tip toes or perhaps pogosticking their way into a coversation. I digress though.. very nice observational piece in general but I specifically like the insight about the lean in. I wonder how many repeated behaviours and instances of body language there are like that that give us all a false sense of empowerment.
I’m a ruthless learner…. It’s accentuated by my height, which compels me to squat or pitch forward slightly at practically every counter.