The world is awash with characters, both real and fictional. We love them, hate them, love to hate them and hate to love them. Ask someone who their favourite character is and they’ll either know it instantly or be compelled to rattle off a Top 5. And when they do I’m willing to bet they’ll refer to fictional characters from book, film, TV etc.
But what about real life characters?
The cheery cleaner who tidies your workspace, who has a tendency to hum too loud and winks a little too often like you’re both in on a secret.
The boss who’s either overly dramatic when faced with a problem or too relaxed when the doo-doo is hitting the fan.
The colleague who is always stressed over nothing, always busy, always fretting that no one else does any hard work, and yet when you really need them they’re nowhere to be found.
What about the overly smiley chap who takes your coffee order each morning, the one you suspect could be mildly insane or intravenously feeding himself pure filtered caffeine from a drip strapped to his leg. No one likes serving coffee that much.
Let’s not forget the woman who walks her dog around your block and greets you with a nod, knowing smile and a “hello” that tells you that maybe she knows you better than you know her.
Forget fiction, real life is weird as hell!
Actually, don’t forget fiction as it’s awesome, but there are just as many real life characters as you’ll find squashed across the pages of book or brought to life in moving pictures on a televisual display unit.
Most people have a hobby, yet there’s one hobby almost every human has, one they do every day without realising. People Watching.
It’s in our nature to observe. Although we’re human, we’re also part sheep. We watch the herd for subtle changes. We compare ourselves to others and wonder if we walk or talk the same, and if a certain person does something different to us we question why.
And if you take the time to look, I mean really look, you’ll start to see some really weird people.
And yes, before you say anything, I’m more than happy to be placed on someone else’s Weird People List.
My morning ritual.
Each morning before work I pop into the supermarket to pick up a drink and a breakfast snack. I sit in my car and take a quiet moment before plunging into the exciting world of office life – ordering things, printing things, phoning for things, reading things, checking things, arranging meetings to talk about things…and so on.
Things are important.
I observe the world around me as I sit and every so often something other than people occupies my attention, like this:
Suicide is a difficult topic to insert into what I consider to be a light-hearted blog post, especially when it comes to a mass trolley suicide. Such a waste.
Every life is precious.
A quiet moment of reflection is needed here, dear blog reader.
So, moving on.
So we arrive at the main crux of my post, that of real life characters. And I’d like to share with you two of these characters whom I’ve observed for a few years.
Not in a creepy way. I’m not that guy. I don’t have a camera with a zoom lens or an old notebook where I studiously make notes in very small handwriting. And I don’t hide behind things.
These characters are sort of odd, though I believe that they believe they’re normal.
Except they’re not.
They’re regulars at the supermarket and because humans look for patterns in life I’ve noticed them coming and going. These two tend to stick out and I can’t help but look out for them each morning.
It’s a little like bird watching or train spotting.
But with humans.
And less trains and birds.
Unless those people happen to be on a train, or watching birds.
Which they aren’t.
My thought processes today have been a little warped. Too much diet coke. Or not enough maybe.
You’ll have to accept the fact that I don’t take pictures of these people. You might think I’m lying and I have a folder on my PC will blurry snapshots of these people, after all you’re reading a post by a guy who took a photo of a mass trolley suicide on the same car park where these characters walk each day.
In truth, having photos of these people would ruin the imaginative slant I’ve added to them. I see them for a couple of minutes each day, after that it’s up to my noggin to fill in the blanks. I like it that way as it blurs the line between who they really are and what they look like in Imaginationland.
Right now part of me wonders if this post is about to turn the corner into Creepy Street.
Let’s see where it goes.
Not Quite Chinese Man.
Yes, that’s my name for him. This guy is short, around five foot, and carries himself with gentle speed, little footsteps but fast. He’s around mid to late fifties and has black hair with long streaks of grey, slicked back from his temple, right to the back of his neck where it sticks out a little.
His eyelids are what made me think he may have some Asian ancestry as they have a touch of Chinese or Japanese to them. He sports a moustache that bares an uncanny similarity to David Suchet’s Poirot, as it’s neat and tidy, flicked up at each end by a fraction that makes me think it’s not nature but design that makes it that way.
The clothing he wears is an odd combination. Without fail he dresses in grey jogging bottoms (sweat pants I think the Yankee-Doodles call them) with small blue canvas shoes. Not shoes exactly. Leisure style. Dark blue with a wide white rubber band around the edge of the sole. Very white as if cleaned daily. I’m certain he wears grey socks as I see the elastic cuffs of his joggers are clipped neatly around his ankles, and a gap between them and the tops of his shoes, sneakers, trainers, whatever they are.
Apparel consists of pastel colours, often a pale blue or green button up shirt tucked into his joggers. The colour of his body-warmer is always a tint different to his shirt – pale blue shirt = pale green body-warmer. The shirt, whilst neat and tidy, has a button open at the top.
Why have I noticed this dude?
Between 8 and 9am the average person I see at the supermarket is either dashing to work, so neat and tidy office wear or big boots and jeans for builders etc. Not Quite Chinese Man (or NQCM) sticks out, not only because of his attire but also how he carries himself and what he buys.
In my experience morning shoppers are in a supermarket on their way to somewhere else. It baffles me each time I see someone with a full trolley of a weeks worth of grocery at 8am. Haven’t people got anything else better to do than do full weeks shopping at the start of the day?
I’ve stood behind NQCM in the queue on occasion. He never uses the normal checkouts or self-service. He queues at the cigarette/lottery checkout, but never buys cigarettes or a lottery ticket. I queue there because it’s the nearest one to the fridge with the drinks in.
He buys odd things. Rarely the same item. A loaf of bread. A pack of carrots. A cake. A tin of peaches. Every so often a newspaper. He doesn’t take a disposable carrier bag offered by the checkout person. NQCM has his own very well used and very creased Bag For Life, which is keeps neatly folded under his arm until time to unfurl it and carefully place his items inside. And I do mean carefully like they’re made of angel wings.
NQCM makes polite conversation with the checkout person, as does everyone who doesn’t give a shit about the weather/news/choice of sandwich, they just want to get their stuff, their change and get on their way. He counts out his change from a shiny brown change purse, and always has exact change, then leaves the store out with rapid little steps.
Why does he bother me?
I’m not sure that he does. There’s something about his morning behaviour that annoys me. At the same time he fascinates me.
Why choose that moment of the day to buy such random stuff? Why does he need three courgettes at 8am? Doesn’t he know he looks funny? Or does he see a normal person in the mirror? How come he has the exact change for what he needs?
I get the impression the coins in his purse exactly match what he buys. Does he know the price of his purchases before he leaves the house and only takes the coins he needs? Did he need that cauliflower, condensed milk or pack of spaghetti for breakfast?
Sometimes I’ll see him in the afternoon, though not often. And even then it’s the same routine. Any time between 3 and 5pm he’ll waddle (that’s not the right word, totter maybe, or mince) across the car park, into the supermarket, buy another random object and make his merry way home.
He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, like he’s taking life at a steady pace and everything happens just as it should. And the weird thing about his walking. He doesn’t appear to have a medical reason for walking the way he does.
I’ve got shortish legs but I walk normally, with a gap between each stride. NQCM puts each foot almost directly ahead of the last, almost like he’s keeping ‘s a slip of paper between his butt cheeks that would drop if he takes too big a stride.
I’ve often wondered how a conversation would go if I asked him why he buys one thing each morning, and why he dresses in a strange mix of leisure and formal wear.
The more I observe him – sometimes a glimpse at a distance, others up close behind him in the queue – the more I wonder how I can use such a strange character in my writing. And it’s because of him that I’ve noticed another character in the morning who is also every so slightly out-of-place.
Mouse Face Moose Chin Woman.
I’m not proficient enough with Photoshop to successfully morph the photo of a mouse with a moose, only with the moose’s bulbous nose as the chin instead.
Imagine the features of a mouse – tiny eyes, slim cheeks and very small mouth, but on a human. Then add the chin of Jay Leno or Quagmire from Family Guy so it juts out in front.
Mouse Face Moose Chin Woman (I can’t bear typing that out again, so MFMCW, okay?) is another small person, possibly shorter than NQCM, who also frequents the supermarket early morning. Her features look as if she has a bizarre night-time ritual of inserting her face into a traffic cone before getting into bed.
Something like this:
Only more feminine.
MFMCW has longer hair, kinda brown, mousey brown in fact, in a bob, if that’s the right word, so no longer than just past her ears. There’s no make-up that I’ve noticed. Tiny glasses though, little round things.
The position of these change each time I see her. Sometimes they look perched delicately on the tip of her teeny tiny nose, other times they seem to have been jammed onto her face by a very large fat hand so the lenses are squashed against her eyeballs.
She wears similar pastel colours to NQCM, though doesn’t seem to enjoy the same mix and match variety, sticking to a single colour outfit – pastel green (perhaps teal) jeans, button up long sleeve shirt, and nondescript brown shoes. Her overall appearance has that look of someone who has rushed to get ready.
On first glance she appears neat and tidy, but a second look shows hair brushed at the front and sides but messy at the back, shirt that looks smooth at the front but has a mass of creases down the back. She’s got a larger arse than I would expect of someone of small stature, and that lends to a sort of wobbly half jog as she hurries from car to supermarket.
Oh, I feel I need to mention her clothes match the colour of her car. A small thing. Can’t remember the make. A city bubble car with bulbous headlights. Basically she drives around in a cartoon.
So why have I noticed this woman?
In some ways she could be a cousin to NQCM as she’s short, takes quick steps, has a somewhat tiny head (apart from the chin) and has the same none threatening taste in colours. She too has a Bag For Life, though on occasion she has a small brown handbag on a thin strap.
I see people hurrying about in the morning – pop into shop, grab sandwich/drink/coffee/smokes, race back to car (possibly whilst herding a pack of noisy school kids) and dash out of the car park.
I personally don’t hurry. I get where I want to be when I aim too. I plan ahead so I don’t have to rush. It took years of learning (or not, as the case may be) that arriving at places just in time wasn’t much fun. These days I find it hilarious that anyone can mooch around wasting time at home then suddenly stare at the clock and realise they should have been out the door 30 minutes ago.
Back to Moose Chin. Yes. I switched it from MFMCW.
Like NQCM, she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. She moves quickly but doesn’t reach her destination any sooner than a taller, larger person. She has an air of busyness about her though, unlike NQCM, like her time seems more precious. Though again, she also only buys a random item.
In a different queue the other day I glanced around to see her buying a marrow at 8am!
Why would anyone want or need a marrow at 8 in the morning?
What is it about these people that interests me?
I can’t really put my finger on it. They’re just different. They stand out from the usual early morning canvas of people hurrying about. I guess you could say they have colour against the back drop of grey normality. Is it the burning need to know why they buy such odd shit in the morning? Yeah, kinda.
It’s everything. Looks, behaviour, weird shopping habits, their inability to be in a hurry, their strange way of walking – it’s like waiting for a shy white rhino or tiger to emerge from its prison at the zoo.
If I wasn’t 100% certain that I’m sane, I’d question if Moose Chin and Not Quite Chinese Man were real people at all or merely projections from my imagination. But then, if that percentage had slipped from the big one-oh I doubt whether I’d question whether reality had blurred into fantasy and just accept the random and crazy as part of the norm.
I think what I find most fascinating is how I can spend countless hours writing characters (not to mention plenty of hours staring into space, thinking about characters) when there are plenty of characters to draw inspiration from all around me.
At some point I know NQCM will make it into a story. Moose Woman…not sure yet as there’s a small part of her that creeps me out.
And that’s a good thing, right?