Monday, September 10, 2012

Characters I Live With

Are you a people watcher? While living here in our home away from home, I am, more than ever. I watch people, listen to what they say and try to determine what they might do next.

I watch people when I go to the library to write. The library here has no “Speak Softly” rules. I’ve heard a lot of moms fussing at their kids. I've heard a lot of undisciplined kids too. I listened to one young teen ask a guy to take her to the mall, then go into a detailed account of how her grandma left her grandpa and wasn’t going back to him.

I watch people when I shop in Wal-Mart. Most of them look incredibly unhappy, as if they’d rather be anywhere else. Amazing how different yet how alike we all are. What amazes me most, is how a person can walk right past me, within spitting distance, and totally ignore me, never speak a hello.

I watch (and hear) people outside my apartment window.The guy above us is on a health/exercise kick. We get up at 4:30 every morning. He gets up at 5. I hear him turn on the blender to mix his morning drink. I wonder what he has in it. Is it a powered Slim Fast drink (I’ve noticed he’s lost a little weight) or something with protein. 

I met a lady when she was walking back from the dumpster. I was getting groceries out of the back of the car. Within fifteen minutes, I knew she was someone I didn’t want to know. She warned me right away--several times--that she was unlikeable. By the time we'd finished our visit, she had me convinced. I haven’t seen her since. I think she’s avoiding me as much as I’m avoiding her.

There are two young guys who live across from us. When we first moved in, I’d see them leave the apartment every day around 10:00 a.m. The short, stocky one would go out to the car first, fiddle with locks, toss his backpack inside and wait for his friend. Five minutes later, the tall lean one, who always walked fast, would go to the car, carrying his little dog. This was the routine for the spring semester. At least, that was my thought--that they were college students, taking their little dog to a ‘sitter’ then hurrying on the class. I’ve never seen any visitors coming or going at their place. I guess that should have been a warning considering they're young and should be having parties and lots of friends over.

Two nights ago, there was a loud pounding on their door. An authoritative voice yelled: Sherriff’s office. Open up.” No response--more pounding. “Search warrant. Open up.”

Two hours later, the tall lanky occupant was taken away in handcuffs. The short stocky one wasn’t around, but he brought friends the next day and moved out. So much for the quiet, unassuming neighbors I'd admired for spending their time studying. You can read about it or watch the video HERE. For the record, I never saw any children going into his apartment. None. Ever.

People-watching, paying attention to what is around us, can help us with our characterization and make our scenes more authentic. I'm sad for my young neighbor, and everyone who knows and loves him. His life is ruined. On a more positive note, I'm excited to know exactly what a law enforcement officer sounds like when he beats on a door yelling, "Search warrant, Open Up." And very thankful he got the right apartment.


Lynn said...

I people watch a lot, but I then need to go write it all down. I always think I'll remember...

Lexa Cain said...

This is the reason I watch a few of the less dramatic reality shows. I find it fascinating how deluded about themselves some people are. It's like they've lost touch with reality and can't see what's so obvious to the viewers. I love psychology (and sociology) so it's always fun to people-watch. :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm actually not a people watcher. I seldom notice anything going on around me, unless someone else points it out or I hear a gasp. This is not a good characteristic for a writer so you are way ahead of me there.