characters

Serving the homeless with my 7th graders last week got me thinking about characterization. We always meet fascinating folk on our trips, and this time was no exception.

There were the regulars: John the schizophrenic who sits outside Horizon Park Chapel and communicates via body language that he knows you’re there, but speaks in endless stream-of-consciousness; Agnus the 300-pound ventriloquist who barely fits her wheelchair and sits in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel with star-shaped sunglasses and a blonde little-girl dummy on her lap; Rick the Bible-thumper who knows his theology frontwards and backwards better than any seminary student I’ve ever met.

This time, there was also Charles — a man with one good eye and a sparring helmet who spent twenty years behind bars and now lives on the street, writing songs. “I got a Master’s in jail, and another one in prison; but my PhD is in B.S.!” And we met Sarah, who looked to be all of twenty years old. She said people had tried to kill her in L.A., and she was here trying to stay alive. She sat out front of the post office like somebody’s lost mail.

We can’t help but be affected by the people we meet.

Like the woman who accosted me in the parking lot of our condo complex. I said I wasn’t interested in whatever she was selling (magazines, come to find out), and she shrieked “I’m not a prostitute!” loud enough to echo off every building in the vicinity.

Or the Turners, my childhood neighbors who raised a cornfield in their front yard, tempting any passing alien to tag circular graffiti.

The list could go on. For better or worse, these are folks I’ll never forget. And I wonder if, even subconsciously, they’ll make an appearance in my fiction...
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