Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa's Not The Only One Watching You

But I don't care if you're naughty or nice, I'm just trying to figure out your story.

There are a lot of drawbacks to being the friend/loved one of a writer: said writer is constantly popping in and out of bed, scribbling down story ideas; said writer is constantly disappearing mid-conversation because an idea popped into his/her head write in the middle of your discussion of the family budget (or in the middle of the DVD you've been waiting all week to watch); said writer is constantly talking to his/herself; constantly demanding alone time; constantly pushing the latest story on all friends and loved ones, with the dreaded question, "Tell me what you think of this" (a question almost as dreaded as, "Does this make my butt look big?").

But the writing habit I'm about to describe is usually the one people find most annoying. And I mean all people, not just the ones that have to deal with the writer on a daily basis.

The habit is people watching. It's one of the ways I (and a lot of other writers) come up with characters and stories. I watch people while hubby's filling the gas tank on the car, I watch the parents and students after school while I'm waiting to pick up my daughter, I watch people browsing for merchandise at Wal-mart. But I have three top picks for people watching.

My number three is any bar. A lot of drama goes on in a bar, and thanks to the free-flowing liquor, people lose their internal volume control, which makes eavesdropping a lot easier.

What about that guy the barmaid just called a cab for? It's noon. How is it that he's so drunk at such an early hour? He's dressed in a powder-blue Henley-style shirt and brand new, stylish jeans, the preferred outfit of the local college kids. Is he a slosh, or is he a hard-working blue collar guy that got off the night shift at 7 am (in spite of his clothes that say otherwise)? And what's the deal with him forgetting, three times, that he's already paid the bill? Is the barmaid going to take advantage of that? What's her story? How much does it suck to have to have drunk guys hitting on you at noon?

Of course, the big disadvantage to a bar is the patrons all tend to be of a single social group, depending on the bar. I know that McMenamy's is going to have an older, blue collar crowd, while The Rock is going to have a lot of college kids doing the Soulja Boy. Social groups tend to self-segregate by frequenting different watering holes.

I can fix that problem by going to the casino, my number two pick for people-watching. The casino has a bar in it, too, so you get some of the drunken drama. But the variety of people is much broader: people barely past eighteen, dressed up in formal wear for the first "grown up" night out; farmers, in from a hard day in the fields to kick up their heels and blow off a little steam; a regional biker group, having their annual "biker's night out"; hardcore grannies playing two machines at once, with one eye carefully trained on their oxygen tank to make sure no drunk stumbles by and knocks it over; tribal members (our casinos are Native American-run); college kids; divorcees trolling for love. You name it, and the cultural/social group is represented at the casino.

One night, a woman of about forty walked up to the back bar and ordered a pitcher of beer. She wore denim jeans, a t-shirt, and a black leather vest. Her hair was cut in a mullet. She filled her glass from the pitcher. Set the pitcher on the bar. She downed the glass in one continuous gulp. She looked at the floor and shook her head sadly. She refilled her cup and repeated the process, each time shaking her head in disbelief. Did she lose a fortune, and can't believe it happened so fast? Did she start taking some kind of medication that made her lose her taste for beer, and can't believe that she's lost something she loves? What's her story?

But my number one pick for people-watching/eavesdropping is any ladies room. Yeah, I know it sounds weird. But ladies have some of their most personal and intimate conversations in ladies rooms (I can't even begin to understand the psychology behind it). A lot of women will open up in a restroom and tell a perfect stranger things she wouldn't tell her best friend out on the casino floor. And if she's in a restroom with her best friend . . . then the juicy stories really start to fly! And where else can you be so close to eavesdrop than sitting in the stall? I've taken to carrying a small memo pad in my back pocket for just such occasions. Weird, yeah. But it's the best way to get at the core of human drama.

So now that I've made you totally paranoid (no, those feet that have been in the stall for an hour do NOT belong to someone with gastric distress), I'll give you some words of encouragement: don't worry. I live in a small town, probably very far away from you. Our paths will never cross . . . . probably . . . maybe. Don't worry, I won't use your real name.


  1. I watch people quite often as well. Sometimes I get paranoid that people know that Im I try to tear my eyes away. It doesnt always work though. I also like listening to other ladies in the bathroom! I want to get one of those tablet pcs so I can carry it around in my purse when I jot down notes. It will be so much easier than trying to keep track of a pen and paper.

  2. Lol, I'm glad I'm not the only one!

    Thanks for stopping by!


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