I people watch.
I always have. It started out of curiousity, then developed into a useful exercise for both theatre and writing. When we seek to make characters come alive, whether on the stage or on the page, it’s helpful to look at real people and notice the things they do. When I’m stuck or bored or in the need for some inspiration, I go people watching.
I had to go to the post office last week, which is not something I particularly enjoy doing. It isn’t just the lines or the office being out of my way; it’s that 90% of the time, I get really, REALLY rude employees. I manage to get one woman a fair percentage of the time who actively seeks reasons to deny me media mail. The last time I had to go to her window, I kid you not, she denied me media mail because I had a bookmark in with the book, and bookmarks, I was told, do not count as media mail. So I had to pay twice as much to send out the book because it has a 1″x6″ piece of cardstock between the pages. Just the chance that I might get stuck at that woman’s window makes me dread going to the post office at all.
A package had to be sent out and bribing my brother proved unsuccessful, so off to the post office I went, after checking the Saturday hours. Our branch opens at ten on Saturday mornings; I got there about 9:45. I spent five minutes or so sitting in the car, double checking the address and making sure the packing tape and paper was secure. The last package I had sent out managed to get mangled despite multiple wrappings, and this perfectly, precisely cut square of butcher paper with my address, the recipient’s address, and my tracking number came back to me in an envelope with a “loose mail, so sorry” note. Another time, I got yelled at- ACTUALLY yelled at- for using Scotch tape instead of packing tape, and the guy threatened to make me send the package priority because that was the only tape they offered. I…may have told him to bite me (but the package got there without a problem).
I mentioned that I have bad experieneces at the post office, yes?
So about ten til, I get out of my car and go to the lobby, which opens around eight so people can check their P.O. Boxes or use the automated machine (which I would love to use, but it does not give you media mail as an option). There was an older couple loudly arguing over the best way to send something and whether or not to get insurance, and nearby was a woman who had apparently never seen a copier before. She burned through almost ten dollars of dime copies before she finally got the page correct, but whenever anyone offered to help her, she started swearing and clawing at them with artificial nails so long they curved like talons. You only offered her help once. There were two couples who kept to themselves on opposite sides of the lobby, a young Chinese couple trying to send something to their family members, and a middle-aged Mexican couple trying to pick up a package.
And there were the ones I really enjoyed watching: the family. It was a mom with two boys, one around ten and the other probably four or five. They played war between the aisles of P.O. Boxes and the mother made very sure she emptied out the water pistols. What Mom didn’t realize, as she stood near the table in the middle of the lobby talking with a friend, is that there’s a water fountain at the far end of the lobby, tucked away past three aisles of boxes. I wasn’t sure if the boys had found that, as they were mostly playing in the lobby and first aisle.
About five minutes to ten, a very tall gentleman walked in with a very short woman who could barely see over the enormous box she was carrying. She definitely didn’t see the small boy as he ran in front of her, so she stumbled over him, dropped the box- something definitely broke inside- and the boy raced back to his mother and ended in a dive for her ankles that will probably get him a scholarship when he’s older. Mom was wearing a long housedress, and he seats himself around her ankles and tries to disappear up her skirt. When she sees the woman moaning over the box, she lifts her skirt up past her knees, looks down at her son over an enormous bosom (and yes, it did in fact qualify as a bosom) and very sternly informed him “Tryin to get back up in there ain’t gonna change what you done”. When small boy showed no signs of moving, she bent over, hauled him out with a firm grip on his ear, and marched him over to apologize. The short woman smiled at him, thanked him for his apology, and told him it was no harm done. Her husband, meanwhile, looked relieved- as they left, he mentioned something about ‘that hideous thing’.
My guess? They were trying to regift and were worried about getting caught at it.
Five minutes after ten, the manager finally comes over to unlock the doors, and first one standing in line is the small boy. The manager looks down at him and smiles, clearly recognizing him as a familiar fixture on Saturday mornings. Little boy smiles back, brings up his water pistol, and soaks the front of her shirt.
Yeh, I’d say he found the water fountain.
Manager- still smiling- reaches to the back of her belt, pulls a water pistol, and squirts him back.
SO not what I was expecting that reaction to be.
And I loved it. LOVED IT. It’s a real life moment that’s so much better than fiction, because we don’t have to set it up, we don’t have to make sure we leave all the clues, because everything is already there. Everything about the scene told us what we needed to know. The mother telling her friend they came every Saturday morning to pick up the certified letter with the child support. The Mexican woman who went and found the water fountain because she was thirsty. All the things you gloss over in telling the story, all the things that bog down the narration as unnecessary, but in real life, we take all of that in without really noticing.
I didn’t even mind having to wait half an hour for them to go through three people at the windows, because I kept giggling over the look on that boy’s face when the manager squirted him back.
Enjoy the unexpected- that’s where we find the best of what we do.
Until next time~