Weekly Strangers Superpost: Renters Remorse & Face/Off

Am I smiling with my eyes?

Am I smiling with my eyes?

As my housing contract with NYU comes to an end, I am looking for a new abode, preferably in Brooklyn Heights or somewhere relatively affordable in Manhattan. Naturally, my first place to look for new apartments was Craigslist. I like the unpredictable nature of the site, and being able to try to gauge how honest or helpful people really are trying to be. It really is a glimpse into the social psyche of a given area. I think more honest, well-meaning people are prone to post detailed photos of their goods, while shadier ones hype their wares with no photographic evidence.

The latter was the case with two places I went and looked at last week. One turned out very well, and the other was quite a traumatic experience indeed. I went and met a realtor I found that was helping someone rent out their one bedroom apartment close to Eastern Parkway. He was very cool, calm, and relaxed. The place he showed me was very nice, and he was eager to point out all the good, new improvements in the place. I took his card and said I would call him back, because the place looked to be promising.

Later that day, I called a guy who was trying to rent out a room in his place on Court Street, less than a block away from where I am at now. I was curious the day before when I saw his posting, so I checked the outside out from the street. Couldn’t tell much, but you can’t argue with property in a prime piece of real estate. At any rate, when I came back the next day, the experience was anything but promising. As soon as I got there, I noticed there was no doorman (something I’ve become accustomed to). The entryway was spartan, and the stairs creeky and paneled in 70’s imitation wood. Tacky. By the time I got to the third floor, a tall, lanky, unkempt boy opened the door and greeted me. The place reeked of cats and their odors, plus weed, covered in incense. I began to worry about having my clothes dry cleaned instantly. I tried to not let the smell disfigure my face and put on my game face and smiled as best as I could while he showed me to his room. It was cluttered, like a nest, and there was a large bong hanging in the window. Smell source  #1 detected. He then led me down a hallway, and a cat peered at me. It was mangy and looked malnourished. Smell source #2 detected. When I got to the kitchen, I was already too through with the place, but I found out where the incense was. Bam, all three smells found! the boy then proceeded to explain that he was moving out on Sunday and that I could move in almost immediately to live with FOUR other people. YES FOUR. For the low price of $1,000 a month. I balked, lost my composure, and I know he knew how I felt, so I exited the place as quickly as could be, not bothering to say I’d call back. He knew he was trying to sell a hole. Jackass.

Blah, on to more scholarly things. Just had to get that out of my system.


The article on social perception was a fascinating one to me. There was a section dedicated to mimicry that really caught my attention. I like to play a game with myself sometimes when I’m on the train or out with friends, and on dates that involves this phenomenon. Basically, on the train, I will pull out something to read, and see if I can influence others near me to cross and uncross their legs. Its kind of funny, because if you are near other men, they generally will follow along. I always wondered about that. Also, if I am out with friends, sometimes I like to see if they can keep up with my drinking. I will take a sip, see if they follow along, and repeat. It works the same with sips of water or coffee in a serious meetings as well, and also with licking your lips, mentioning chapped lips, or pulling out chapstick. Just try it.

The section dedicated to posed and genuine expressions also was interesting. Tyra always tells her model proteges to ‘smile with their eyes,’ so I thought this was funny that it had its basis in both of these readings somewhat. Whether or not that smile is genuine is surprisingly simple to determine for me usually. I enjoy reading people, and playing lie detector. Simple things like looking to the left can tell a lot when it comes to people’s lying. Some people can tell you their whole life story through their eyes and smiles, so I wish there was more on this section of the reading. Knowing someone’s emotional state is part of that I think it takes to read someone, like what the reading says, but I really think that the eyes are so telling, that their emotional state is secondary or tertiary at best. Very few people will hold a gaze consistently in any conversation, so knowing a person’s conversational oddities is key, so I think that the art of reading another’s expression is not quite as scientific as the author likes to think. People deceive others for a variety of reasons, and I think that even if it is for a little white lie, people would be amused at how much of their facial expressions are dedicated to masking emotions, rather than giving them off.

The last part of this article dealt in part with a sort of biological basis for some of the behaviors we exhibit around members of the same and opposite sex. I want to believe that most of what was said within was true, but since there are many fluid exceptions to what people perceive as a static, rigid human sexuality, I can’t say I agree with the author completely. Sure, there are maybe some behaviors attributed to the human “mating ritual” of sorts, but some of the claims made are silly at best, such as males being able to detect fertile females. The claim is nothing extraordinary, but the indicators for fertile males and females are generally based upon youth and the sexual organs you can see, so it seems a bit odd to me the author made it out to be something more than that, especially when considering same sex sexual relations. Pointing out what appears to be a fertile human, no matter the sex, requires very little attention on the part of the observer in my opinion. We all know what to look for, and it is really face value.


The second reading was quite a bit more in depth than the first, so I was able to follow along with the material better. The first just made claims and said, “There. Thats how it is.” This one on the other hand had backstory and explanation for everything said, even if it was anecdotal. I have known about the Facial Action Coding System for some time, so it was cool to see it discussed here.

I am pretty good at reading people, but that might be because I am used to interviewing them for stories, and I like to listen and watch. Once I notice something odd or interesting about a person’s mannerisms, I try and come up with or listen for the reason for that, since people are animals of habit. If someone can hold a good, stimulating conversation, you can tell many things about them, but there is just as much to be said from the silent person next to you in class. I usually have very open body language, and I try to give that off as best as I can, because I like to hear what people have to say, and it disarms them when they are hostile. A good smile, steady voice, and eye contact go a long ways. When I interview someone for a story, I always go to them, where they are comfortable, and have them direct the conversational traffic for the first few minutes so they open up. You would be surprised how quickly people open up to you when you show them genuine interest and curiosity (not too much.)

Ekman’s experiments on the universality of expressions sound so fun to me. First, he gets to travel, then take photos of people and observe them while making faces at them. Exciting! I do believe many faces humans make are somewhat universal, but I’d have to meet with some Maori tribesmen to make sure for myself probably. I tend to project my own emotions and what I am trying to say with my mannerisms to get my points across, and only in rare occasions are there misunderstandings. In my opinion, if people think they know you, they are comfy with you, so let them think that, and do your best to be open to people. That leads to fewer altercations and misunderstandings from my own experience. You don’t have to be a fake person, but you can consciously project the emotions you need to handle a situation wherever you are. I wish I was as focused as Ekman though in wanting to understand the entire gamut of human emotion and facial expression. I can’t imagine the scale of his research, but the results definitely made for powerful material used by people that need to know these things, like CIA people, and people that provide counseling.

I thought the mention of the homosexual ritual in Papua New Guinea was odd, because that had came up in conversation with me and a friend the day before. The discovery channel USED to have random information about things like that, but now its all about explosions, shark week, and silly motorcycles. At any rate, being able to tell a mean, homosexual pygmy from a nice one might be a good skill to learn? According to Ekman, yes, because the face is a gold mine of information. Simply the breaking down of facial expression in the manner Ekman describes is monumental in the fields of interrogation, but if I learned the entire system, I can imagine that my circle of friends would be much smaller, and I would certainly treat each and every date much differently…as if they weren’t easy enough to read as is.


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