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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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

3 thoughts on “Homeless Santa (And Other Thoughts On Character Study)

  1. Restaurants are a good place to people watch. I go to a small cafe often and there are ‘regulars’ there. One is a guy who talks constantly to his buddy while they are on lunch break. I never thought of men talking so much, only women. LOL

  2. For the first time in my 16 years I regularly get a public bus to and from college, that’s a great place, the ones that stick most in my memory are the woman who smoked a joint out the window so the whole bus stank of ganj, the old guy who comes on every thursday and takes up two seats, the woman who seems to have the best behaved toddler I’ve ever seen (even if she does like to play “throw it on the floor” quite a lot) as she has never tantrumed through the whole 6 weeks. Then one day my friend pointed out to me that in actual fact whilst I was watching everyone else, /I/ was being observed by quite a few people too, guess I’m one of the crazies that people-watchers write in their books (or because I’m 6’5″ OTL)

    ~Kutanra~ (from deviantART)

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Patricia! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oh yes, eateries can be an excellent place to observe people in (or, more entertainingly, out of)their element. I think there’s a certain tendency to drop one’s guard while dining and conversing…to the point that most people manage to forget that someone is likely eavesdropping.

    Kutanra, thank you for taking the time to comment! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ah, public transit! Another great opportunity. You get quite a variety of exposure on subways and lightrails as well. I think my favorites are the people who use their time to hold odd personal phone conversations, oblivious to everyone around them.
    And yes…for your height alone, I would probably be keeping you in my peripheral vision most of the time. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But likely, not on suspicion of craziness. I just find non-mundane folk to be interesting. ^_^