The world is full of strange and wonderful people. At times I’ll sit in the coffee shop of Powell’s Books, and a person will catch my eye. Maybe they’re across the street, or perhaps sitting at a table nearby. Something about them sparks me, the absurdity of their appearance or actions inspiring me to scribble something, though I think I might learn more about me than about them. I don’t want to lose these strangers, lose this moment in time. My memory’s not the greatest, and dashing down a few words about someone I see across the street is the best way for me to retain it. And characters they are — they or their illegitimate children will some day grace the pages of a manuscript.
Here are some character sketches of the people I’ve seen around my neck of the woods. Enjoy.
Bad ass street punk in his mid-twenties, five and a half feet tall, reddish blond hair and a goatee. He sits across from me at another table, reading a manga book as he drinks his coffee. His black button up shirt, open at the neck, is too formal for his hairstyle and beard. A black turtleneck peeks from beneath the open collar. A street punk with a turtleneck? I know it’s winter, but…
That’s not the dichotomy — an obvious homeless man enters the coffee shop, and drops a Carl’s Jr bag at the street punk’s table. I can smell him from here. Dusty brown, acrid musty scent, threadbare clothes. They nod at one another, solemn, my bad ass punk not even bothering to look up from his book. The homeless guy leaves the building. No coffee for him it seems. Friend? Acquaintance? Hired Peon? ‘Will run errands for food’ on a chunk of discarded cardboard?
A few minutes pass while I try to focus on the scene I’m supposed to be writing. My bad ass pulls a burger out of the bag. He unwraps it with tanned but clean hands and eats, still reading. Afterward, he carelessly wads the wrapper, and tosses it into the bag.
Movement to my right. The homeless guy has reappeared. He’s at the window, knocking and gesturing at my bad ass. The street punk finally looks at his companion, revealing cinnamon hazel eyes in a cinnamon hazel face. Another terse nod to one another, and the homeless guy leaves.
Here’s where I laugh — finally the street punk packs up his trash. He puts a bookmark in the book, and stands. To my surprise, he’s wearing a Utilikilt. I hadn’t noticed it while he was seated. Hairy legs, tanned and freckled, the stereotypical combat boots and woolen socks on his feet. He collects his things, turns away from me, takes two steps….
…and wiggles his ass like a girl to get the kilt to settle before walking off.
Her stance is one of wariness. Shoulders hunched, she carries the weight of more than her laden backpack. Her eyes glance left and right, searching for danger, though her head remains down, an indication of fearfulness, of being intimitated.
Everything about her essence screams, ‘Don’t look at me!’
Her hair is short, spiky, bright red. She wears a riotous collage of color and pattern — a Lycra top does nothing to hide her thick body, an indecently short skirt looks more at home on an Olympic ice skating rink. Vivid pink fishnet stockings, artfully ripped, do little to cover meaty thighs. Her feet are crammed into patent leather sandals.
Everything about her appearance screams, ‘Pay attention!’
What a mass of confliction. She wants to be noticed, but expects to be attacked. Is it conscious attention seeking? Does she desire to be hounded for her choice of dress? Is abuse her aim? Will she feel vindicated if someone gives her crap for the whole Gothic / punk get up? Or does she slink back to wherever she feels safe to nurse her wounds, to hug a tattered teddy bear to her ample chest, to weep over the unfairness of her life?
Maybe confrontation gives her strength. Maybe she meets opposition with a straightened spine, no longer bowed by unimaginable horrors, eyes flashing as she demands to be treated like someone who matters.
I’ll never know. She’s lost to my view, walking the streets from here to there, waiting for an attack to come.
He walks with the exaggerated swagger of a 1960’s street punk from New York or Chicago — a half limp, one shoulder dropped, one arm dragging slower than the other. The type of gait considered cool among African-American men of my youth. He’s wiry, bone thin, and very pissed off. His mouth is in constant motion as he bitches at no one walking beside him, stopping occasionally to throw his hands down to his sides to stress his utter indignation.
It’s odd how easy it is to watch him, yet I discretely turn away as he turns in my direction. He’s across the street and I’m behind a window in a coffee shop. I guess even the distance of twenty-five feet isn’t safe from his madness. Will he vent his fury on whomever catches his eye, whomever sees him as a human being? Will he see me watching from my not-so-safe haven, come over in his slouching Cool brand of walk to fill me in on his opinion of the world? I’d rather not risk it. My eyes drift down the street, as if I’m not seeing him at all, seeing others — the ‘normal’ ones — avoiding his gaze as they quickly slip past him on the sidewalk.
I have to wonder…what does my reaction say about me? Maybe if people truly saw him, he wouldn’t need to vent his anger to an invisible companion.
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