I got an idea from my best friend, awhile back. Something that helps me watch people better. Think about them. Wonder. You know, all that creepy, stalkerish stuff.
I write notes about people I see and I save them.
I don’t write these all that often, but they are very fun, are good practice for me, and they give me a bank of characters to pull from if I need one sometime.
There was this one from my train trip earlier this year.
To the extroverted conductor,
You were the best part of a train ride that was already cool.You stood outside the door, counting the passengers as they left and making good-natured impatient motions with your hand when they lagged. You completed your tally and then greeted the next people with a ‘oh, a bonus person. I love bonus people.’
Your sense of humor didn’t leave as you handed us our seat numbers. 53 and 54. One of them was your age, you said.
You moved through the train, with your green coat and conductor’s hat, with a smile and word for everyone. Ahead of me, I heard you ask where a man was going.
“Oh, D.C.? We’re going there too. I bet you are happy about that.”
You told us the best places to eat in Pittsburgh. Then you moved on.
I wish I knew your name. But I’m glad I got the chance to see you.
This happened as well:
To the man across from us in the train.
I’m sorry you weren’t able to get your Paypal working. It’s obvious you were frustrated, but I am glad you tried desperately to not swear as you called your friend for help—even if you didn’t succeed all the time. You worked for over two hours at it, muttering that you would hurl the phone halfway across the country to let this friend fix it for you. He asked where you were. You said Indiana. He asked where that was and you got ticked off. “The STATE of Indiana!”
You were coming from a construction job, heading back to the coal mines of your home town in West Virginia.
I didn’t get a clear look at your face; it was dark and you stared at your phone and window more than in my direction. But I remember your black hoodie and tattered pants. You slept, finally. I hope you got some rest.
And then there are all these collections from work.
To be quite frank, you reminded me of a hippie who toned your clothing to more sober colors, but never bothered to change the style. Your hair was long and wiry; a dirty blond over your shoulders. That big lumpy nose. The weathered skin. It was something in the whole air about you.
Your smile was beautiful though, and your aged hands as they brushed mine were soft.
I hope you are as happy as you seem.
You, dear sir, have a fashion sense even worse than my own. It made me smile inside. That camo jacket. The plastic name badge, just hidden from view. Then there was that flannel shirt with the faded printed, and the even stranger flannel pants. Looked warm though.
Your face showed you didn’t care in the least; quiet, but with lips that seemed ready to break into a smile at the slightest provocation.
Your stance is that of a gentleman as you lean against the wall. I could imagine you leaning against a mantle, a cup of tea inside your hand.
And when I bring your food out, your fingers are soft and worn. And your eyes crinkle in that smile I knew you had as we bid each other good day and part our ways.
And finally, one of my favorites from earlier this summer.
To the girl who cut my hair,
You said you looked like a bit of an odd doll. I suppose you are right. I can see the colored tattoos over your arms and shoulders, peering beneath strips of cloth that make up a portion of your sleeve. You have a small ring in your nose and your hair is a fascinating mixture of styles I’d never try—shaved on the sides, curled tight on the top and dyed a mixture of purples and blues. I must say, it suites you well.
You claim to look a bit odd, and you’re right. But just because art is odd, doesn’t make it wrong. Your smile reaches your eyes and doesn’t leave. You don’t just want to talk, you want to listen. To understand and pick up bits of life from those whose hair you cut. Quick. Funny.
You remind me of life if she were a person. A complicated surface, masking untold depths. A veil of scars and art, covering secrets which wait for a revealing hand.
I wish you well, wherever you go. Maybe I’ll see you again someday.