Friday, December 9, 2011

Homeless Santa (And Other Thoughts On Character Study)

The Dollar Store is great for people watching. I consider it third best, surpassed only by indoor malls and airports. There's usually someone memorable wandering around, with some quirk I might tuck away later and add to one of my literary characters just for flair and flavor. Hoping to avoid alienation from friends (and/or lawsuits) I prefer to make notes on complete strangers. The show-tune singing Wal*mart cashier, the scary-big bodybuilder walking his teacup Chihuahua, the glowering bell-ringer with the hooker boots... I never know what's going to stand out as inspirational to my warped, ADD-addled little mind. But a while back, I happened upon 'the full package'--a person who unconsciously demanded to be a complete character rather than simply contributing to a possible-but-unlikely composite.

Homeless Santa.

It was nowhere near December, but the man's resemblance to Father Christmas was so striking, I ran into an endcap full of off-brand air fresheners before any family members could hiss at me to stop staring. Twinkling eyes...that was my first clue. Snow white beard and a cherry nose? Yep. Dimpled, rosy cheeks? Check. Broad face, and a little round belly? Definitely. It even shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of...

Well okay, so he wasn't laughing. He was actually a bit bedraggled looking. That's when I noticed the faded military fatigues and tattered old biker boots. No pipe, either--just a crumpled pack of Marlboros peeking up out of his left breast pocket. I shook off the eerie sense that I'd just encountered the results of a clash between mythos and a bad economy, and continued with my shopping. But even as I went about collecting my ridiculously cheap (but still quality!) cleaning supplies, I pondered the possibly down-on-his-luck doppelganger. Just as I'd started making up some tragic holiday story revolving around wartime Post-Traumatic Stress and memory loss, I heard a voice behind me rumble, "Excuse me, ma'am?

As it turns out, Santa has a Southern drawl. I smiled and waited for him to ask me if I worked there. (I get that a lot, for some reason... >.>) Instead, he told me he loved my tattoos. He then properly identified my Celtic trinity knot as a Triquetra, stating that the word was Latin for "three-cornered." He went on to compliment my interlocking Greek Alpha and Omega letters and knew precisely what they symbolized, (possibly making him the first stranger who hasn't assumed me to be some exceptionally devoted sorority member.)

Deeply impressed, I let him know he was the only person I'd met who recognized both of my tattoos without me needing to explain them. The older gentleman gave me a distinctly merry smile and said, "You know, people don't usually guess it, but I studied Greek and Celtic cultures pretty extensively back in my college days."

No, I bet people don't guess. But they really ought to consider it. :)

I thanked the man profusely. He had no idea how much our passing interaction affected me. Somehow...someday...he needs to make it into a story. But then again, I'm sure he has plenty of his own.

So, you've heard my confession. Tell me about an experience or inspiration you've had regarding character study, or just plain old people-watching.