The Voyeur…continued from “Get Your Story Started” by John Smolens

The following is taken verbatim from The Writer magazine article, “Get Your Story Started.”

Waiter!

Image via Wikipedia

Step 2- Get out of the house (60 minutes).

Go someplace different, someplace with a lot of people–preferably people you don’t know or seldom see.  Restaurants, bus terminals, train stations and airports are excellent sites.  Find a spot and observe the people around you.  Describe as much as you can.  You may use lists, narrative passages, fragments of overheard conversations recorded as dialogue.  Catalog what you see; gather as much detail as you can.

Here is my response.  Some of it might not make much sense.  We went to dinner at Park Ave Pub, thinking we would find lively conversation and people from a large spectrum of life.  This is a fine dining restaurant.  The service was wonderful, but I can’t help thinking that the fact I kept a mini legal pad and a pencil to the left of my place-setting made them think I was writing some sort of criticism of their restaurant.  It’s not a pub.  Don’t be misled by the name.

Much of what I have recorded is in portions of conversation.  There was only one booth behind me, and since we were seated by the window, we were on the outskirts of the floor.  Not to whine, but I’m whining.

The Restaurant Itself

A dark, intimate space–the paint gold and taupe in an almost-argyle pattern.  The bar was lined with people, very organized and polite in their own spaces, like dolls surrounded by clear plastic cases.  From the ceiling were strings of crystal discs that caught an ethereal glow from the Christmas lights hung along the perimeter of the room.

Our table had a candle that cast a pumpkin-colored shadow across the grain of the butcher-block.

The ceiling resembled a cedar-shingled wall hung above us.

Behind Cory a pair of mirrors in a medieval shape were framed and surrounded with brick veneers.  He kept looking across the restaurant, and hissing that the plants surrounding the sconces were plastic.  “I hate plastic plants,” he said at least three times.

I kept shushing him because I was trying to hear the businessmen behind us.  To everyone else, we must have looked like the couple in the restaurant that didn’t speak to each other.

Across the restaurant was a really beautiful painting.  The whole place was neutral, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that the painting was in muted golds and taupes, too.  The image was of three men scraping hard at hardwood floors.  From my seat, the floors in the painting resembled toothpicks, the way they cozy up next to each other like planks you could walk on.  Cory called the men “planers,” which was interesting to me.  In the corner of the room in the painting, was a dark mass I couldn’t make out.  Cory mentioned maybe it was a dead body.  He’s reading too much Dexter.

Loud conversation from the bar.  Debating Aphorisms.

“So you mean you don’t know ‘See you later alligator?'”  Man said.

“No, I suppose I haven’t heard it,” Woman said.  “Is it like ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?'”

Snippets of dialogue from the businessmen doing business at the booth behind me.

“Yeah it’s cold out there.  I’m used to it though.  I’m from the Adirondacks.  We keep the house at 60 degrees, so we don’t do a lot of entertaining,” said Waiter to Airport Owner.

“I own a little airport in Lake Placid.  You know we land, some single engines, some twin engines, mostly small, ten-passenger planes,” Airport Owner said.

“How did you get to owning an airport?” Waiter asked.

“The same way you go into the restaurant business,” Airport Owner said, chuckling.

“So you have a teaching degree, too?”  Waiter said.

Finally, the Fuel Salesman showed up to dinner, and Waiter offered the men wine.  They must have been shy to order, because Waiter prompted again, “Red or White?”

“Eh, red,” Airport Owner said.

“Well there’s the red wine list,” Waiter said.  “Then there’s the list that’s off the list.  And if you still don’t find something to your liking, there’s the list off the list off the list.”

Other random snippets heard from the businessmen.

“I used a hair dryer to melt the snow.”

“Another dealer went bankrupt a couple days ago.  I said I’ll wait for the Chapter 11 until…”

“…in today’s day and age…”

Loud talker at table across the restaurant

A brown-haired woman said to the table of five, “Didn’t you think the dogs were miserable?”  she laughed, and that made me think she was being nasty, like Cruella Deville or something, but the rest of the table laughed too, so maybe she was just being honest.  Or funny.  She didn’t look like a funny person.  She just looked average in her navy blue, cable-knit sweater that I imagined was from Coldwater Creek or Dress Barn or Fashion Bug.

The last diner  This is a sketch of the woman I saw most clear.

Her name is Arlene, and she walks with a cane.  Her hair is so frosted that if it were snowing, you wouldn’t see the flakes nested on her strands.

The owner or manager greets her by name, Arlene, and she is happy to see him because she holds her cane away from herself to give him a hug.  She seems tired in her gray turtleneck sweater, as if she might want to pull the knit up to her forehead and nap.  Or lay her head down on the manager’s shoulder.  She says to the manager, “I feel pregnant with these shots I’ve been getting.  I can feel the stuff in my legs.”  The manager steps away from the booth and gestures for her to sit down.  When she does, her companion (husband? brother? friend?) enters my view.  The manager addresses this man as Andrew.  He is perfectly suited to Arlene, a gentle person, with the color of steel wool, but the touch of felt.  Andrew pats Arlene’s head and sits across the table from her.

So there’s Step 2.  Tomorrow night, I will post Step 3.

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About Sarah Cedeño

Sarah Cedeño received her BA and MA in Creative Writing from SUNY-Brockport, and her MFA in fiction from Goddard College. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hippocampus Magazine, The Bellevue Literary Review, Literary Mama, and Redactions. She lives in Brockport with her husband and two sons and teaches writing at SUNY-Brockport. View all posts by Sarah Cedeño

One response to “The Voyeur…continued from “Get Your Story Started” by John Smolens

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