I'm chair dancing in Starbucks. My amazing mentee from Girls Write Now is sitting across from me laughing as we discuss the afternoon's writing exercise. We decide to focus on character. I feel so blessed to have Meg as a mentee. We meet once a week to challenge ourselves in our writing and I am inspired by her willingness to jump into the process. She constantly reminds me why I love writing. Meg is an extremely motivated and bright high school senior, and we always take a few minutes to talk about where she is in the college application process . . . now it's the WAITING.
Meg starts writing a character study for a piece we co-wrote together for the Girls Write Now reading series called, THE HOW-TO GUIDE FOR INHABITING TWO-LEGGED ANIMALS. (In fact, we are reading our piece together on Friday night, February 26th at the Center for Fiction on East 47th Street. 6PM) I encourage her to continue developing this quirky piece she started during a lightening round of "hot notebook". (I started her with a prompt, she wrote for five minutes and then passed the notebook to me, I wrote, passed it to her, back and forth, etcetera, etcetera . . .)
Me, I want to do a character study of this man I see here all the time, The Man with the Can . . . Today he is sitting near us in full view, his large canary yellow can of Dominoes Sugar on the table in front of him. The can is as much a part of him as anything else. What is in there? He wears thick old glasses that remind me of characters in fantasy books - Harry Potter wore thick glasses, so did Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, and dar'st we forget about Mrs. Who's glasses that help Meg to see her father and walk through walls? His dark skin makes him look younger than his actual age, which is old because I see wisps of gray peeking out of his blue hat. Under his green parka and argyle scarf, he wears a brown suit with snazzy black spat shoes and white socks.
My foot can't stop tapping to the groovilicious music coming through the Starbucks speakers.
"Hey Mister?" I want to ask. "Whatch'ya got in there?" But I don't. He is tapping his feet to the music too. We smile at each other in rhythmic solidarity. (The older woman across from him is shakin' it too. Meg's shakin' it, we're all gettin' down.)
He also has a green bottle with brown liquid in it. He is not a Starbucks patron, but a Starbucks regular. I have never seen him buy a cup of coffee, while I on the other hand, should own stock in Starbucks. He is self sufficient.
My man looks out the window, tapping his Dominoe's Sugar canister. Is he going to open it? He picks up his green bottle and unscrews the yellow cap - as yellow as the sugar jar. He takes a sip. I imagine it will transform him, that he will grow into a giant or shrink to the size of my thumb like Alice in Wonderland, but he keeps looking out the window. There is something incredibly dignified in his snappy duds and thoughtful expression as he people watches. I watch what he is watching, who he is watching as he sips and taps.
God is in his soul or is God in the can? Is God outside or inside? Will he tell me?
"Whatchyou got in there Mister?"
"Whatchyou got in there girlie?" Yeah.
He looks at me and leans over his can, placing his hands on the top and turning it. slowly opening . . . I am holding my breath . . . what could possibly be in there? Slowly, slowly it is opening . . . and . . . he pulls out a spoon and starts eating. Lunch. Lunch is in his canister. And watching him is a pleasure, enjoying his lunch, sitting by the window in Starbucks on a cold and sunny day, surrounding himself with his fellow man.
I am glad that it is something as simple as lunch, filling him up and nurturing him, as observing and identifying with someone from a different generation, race and culture has been nurturing for me. Sometimes, people just dazzle me.