Imitation is the one of the sincerest forms of flattery, so they say. I look forward to R. Sativus‘ Character Sketch series of posts, because I want to be able to describe people the way April sees them: honestly, with a touch of irony and a whole lot of empathy. She works in a perfect place for people watching and the woman doesn’t miss a single detail about the people who walk by her place of employment. But without her objectivity and canny ability to feel their joy, sadness, anger and contentment, it would all come off as snarky commentary.
I am at one of my favorite neighborhood places. “Favorite,” because they have secure WiFi and are not Starbucks, or its like. Inspired by the collection of characters here tonight, I am going to try my hand at “being April” and sketch the characters I see.
As I approach the establishment, I see an older gentleman sitting at one of the outdoor tables. His eyes are absent, as though he’s lost in thought. His body shudders a bit, and then he stands up, uneasy on his feet. He has a backpack and is wearing exceptionally over-sized dirty pants and an equally dirty over-sized sweatshirt. But, his hair is clean, cut short, and he is shaven. As he passes me, the smell of old urine is unmistakable. He’s left a beer on the table, poured in a glass, 2/3rds full. He’s a curious sight for this place. As I walk in the door, I wonder who he is.
I arrive a half an hour after Happy Hour, so most people are settling up their bills and heading out. I wait a couple of minutes for the coveted table under the kind-of bay window to be cleared. As I take my seat, a tall-ish, plump, but definitely busty woman walks in like she owns the place. Cherry-bomb red, business-tailored, form-fitting dress, capped by a bright, shiny made-up face and genuine smile, with straight, thin, blonde tresses that hang flat-as-a-board below her shoulders. Her left forearm extends upwards, her car keys in her hand and a blatant display of “see I own a super-expensive designer bag” looped over her arm as she takes enormous strides in flesh-toned pointy-toed stilettos dotted with silver studs riveted down the entire back of her shoes. Her destination is revealed when a table bursts into cheers. “There’s the birthday girl!” She’s further greeted with a glass of champagne and a bouquet of bright yellow flowers.
Not long after that, her polar-opposite walks in: Short, skinny, hunch-over a bit, cropped brown hair almost entirely covered by a backwards NFL ball cap and a pair of Oakely sunglasses hanging down from her ears under her chin. A black down vest, crew neck t-shirt, saggy-butt b-boy jeans. She slides into an open table, tells the waitress she meeting someone, and immediately starts texting.
Her friend comes in a few minutes later, rushed and a little frantic. Her head is completely shaved, save the jet-black pompadour Mohawk, black button down shirt, tight rolled up jeans and black motorcycle boots. She orders whiskey-sours for both of them. Jameson. The smaller woman corrects. “Chardonnay for me. Thanks.” They spend the rest of the time I’m here in serious, animated conversation. When they leave, they grab hands and kiss, giving one another the biggest, sweetest smiles I’ve seen lovers give each other in a long time.
I come to this place often enough to know who is the barfly. But he is not here tonight. An older man, always drunk, very drunk, but never obnoxious. He typically sits at the bar close to the door, too zoned-out on whatever drink anyone is buying for him to be able to focus. I wonder why he isn’t here tonight?
A trio comes in: A middle-aged balding man in jeans and a t-shirt, and a couple of women, one younger than the other, dressed as casually as he. They sit at the table next to me. The women sit across from one another. I furtively glance at the woman opposite me. A long blonde bob, simple navy blue sweater layered with a pink t-shirt, and jeans. Fashionable, but sensible lace-up walking athletic shoes. It’s not until she stops smiling broadly and lets her face drop that I notice she’s a good deal older than I guessed. She and the young woman, who I do not get a good look at, start chatting. He settles in with his phone, disinterested with their conversation. A waitress, who’ve I’ve never seen before, comes by and the three of them explode with “Oh My God!” and “You’re still here?!” The man jokes, “Oh, well, there goes my already bad day!” and laughs. The young waitress ignores his comment. It occurs to me she probably works in the kitchen. The women order salads and he orders a burger. All order glasses of wine. The woman devour their salads in a matter of 2 or maybe 3 minutes, hunched over the table, totally focused on shoving food in their mouths. The man sits back, eats slowly, and cannot finish his burger. The young woman picks at the remains on his plate.
As they get up to leave, a gaggle of six elderly women walk in. The young woman knows two of the elderly women and they happily greet one another. Another woman in the gaggle carries a vase of Calla Lillies. I hear the word, “birthday.” Another! All of the elderly woman are smartly dressed and coiffed. None of them move with any ease. How is it, I wonder to myself, that as we age, walking becomes so awkward? The woman with the lilies moves through her crowd of friends with a sudden burst of mobility, holding the vase of flowers high over her head. “Let’s go back to the back,” she directs. The rest follow as fast as their aged legs will allow.
A guy walks in and plops onto an open bar stool, followed by his girlfriend. He’s in a beige wool short-billed cap, khaki Carhartt jacket, a black leather “man purse” strapped across his body, clean hair cut, sporting one of those “oops, I forgot to shave since last weekend” beards, and wearing a khaki Utlikilt that perfectly matches his hat and his coat. He does one of those chin-up nods to the barkeep and orders a stout. It’s the first time I’ve seen any man in a Utilikilt so fashionably coordinated. I can’t help but blatantly stare at him.
His tiny pixie, nondescript mouse of a Tomboy girlfriend takes the stool next to him. He smiles a gigantic grin and wraps a long arm around her waist, giving the side of her leg a squeeze. She responds in the most aloof manner a person can, avoiding his gaze. “Beer?” he asks her. “Yeah,” she says, offering nothing more. He orders her a Fat Tire.
As I continue to stare at the guy in the Utilikilt, I wonder who of my nephews ended up with my dad’s black kilt.