imbroglio n. an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation
I am a champion eavesdropper and general observer of people. I do it often, especially on the morning train. It is a bit of a game for me, to overhear conversations, on the phone or actively between two people. If I was a novelist I think I might ride the train just to gather ideas for character sketches. It’s more than just a few moments of a conversation. It’s the way that particular person talks. Their speech pattern and intonation, the overall cadence of their speech, what they are talking about and the emotion they are audibly emitting. Piece it together with what they’re wearing, the bag they’re carrying, their ID badge hanging off of their zipper. It all creates an invented persona and I am a detective trying to solve who they are to place them in my own story. When I am lucky enough to catch someone lamenting on an imbroglio, it ties it all together – but I am rarely so lucky. Instead I watch and create my version of them in my head.
I picture myself as a hack impersonation of Ernest Hemingway in “A Moveable Feast:”
…A girl came into the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.
I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.
The thought of Ernest Hemingway writing in a café, observing people and turning them into his characters inspires me. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a novel, or anything deemed publishable for that matter, but I can still create the story to pass the time. Here are some of my favorite, frequent characters.
The Fun, Fearless Female
She is one of my favorites and I hate when she sits in a car farther down the line and I don’t have the chance to observe her. She works for Cosmopolitan Magazine, or at least I think she does because she is always carrying tote bags that have bedazzled sayings like “Fun, Fearless Female” with fake kissy marks- the kind they give away at workplace events. She surely looks fun with her honey highlighted bob, a hint of cleavage showing through her light, acrylic Forever 21 sweater in the Spring and Summer. 100% fun. The most notable thing about her, though, is that she is always telling some long, drawn out, exquisitely animated imbroglio to at least 3 or 4 men – most of them bald and overweight, but nonetheless gathered around like a moth to a flame. She comes across as young, peppy and seductive in a very suburban way, but if you look close you see the tiny creases of crows feet, her foundation and powder caked there signaling a clue to her age. She must be mid 40’s going on 17. I wonder if she’s writes those sordidly famous Cosmo sexual advice columns. Or if she’s just a functionary, a cog in the wheel of the smut publishing universe.
The girl that all of the men stare at on the platform. The perfect hair, the clear complexion. She always carries a Kate Spade bag and has work friends that she sometimes talks to on the train. She has an immature taste in clothing…like this morning when she wore espadrilles and a tailored jean blazer on this rainy, 40 degree day. She smiles with her mouth closed because her teeth are crooked. It seems like a source of embarrassment for her. At first glance, you would think she has it all together, but if you look closer you see that the strap on one of her handbags is torn and taped discreetly back together. That her iPhone screen is so marred with cracks that I wonder how she uses it without slicing her fingertips. The day she sat next to me on the train she stabbed me with her bony elbow at least three times because of her feverish texting. She was whispering on the phone, gossiping about work and about her upcoming trip to LA. She is married, the standard large, flawed diamond solitaire and channel set wedding band combo. I wonder what her other half is like. If he’s like her, clean looking and popular or if he’s a nerd. I always pair her with “Tom Brady”, the good looking tall guy who carries the Coach diaper bag as a man purse who always stands near her on the platform. They would go so well together – Kate Spade and Tom, walking side by side, she in suede ankle boots, he in grey loafers (no socks). But she is uninteresting, not because she has to be, though. I feel like she’s just looking the part, playing the role. Maybe she doesn’t have the courage to be anything else or maybe she just wants to be the pretty girl on the platform, and that is enough for her.
Sometimes I take the train from a different town, with different people crowding the platform. Sometimes I see Bob, and he doesn’t know it, but I listen to his music. Sometimes it’s Jay Z or Kanye. Other times it’s something I can’t place but wish I could. Usually when I hear a song I like, I try to remember a line or two to Google later and then download it. But I can’t hear the words through Bob’s ear buds, tucked behind his long dread locks. It makes me sad to catch a beat and not know what the song is. He drinks Dunkin Donuts coffee – not flavored, medium – and wears a suit under his overcoat. Sometimes he stands next to me and we wait, I with my purple Beats, he with his white ear buds, and we share the platform in our own individual, music laced bubbles. I wonder what the probability is that we have ever listened to the same song at the same time, our headphones secretly communicating our comradely in static code.
The Twin Beaks
They both look amazing from behind. Him in a brown tweed overcoat, her in a smart red trench. They hold hands, they talk with their heads close together and you think to yourself – wow – what a great looking, loving couple. You expect them to turn around and blow you away, like in some cheesy rom com movie where the music queues up and the wind blows their hair just so. Instead you notice that they both have strangely large noses. Everything else about them is perfection – except for their twin beaks. I suppose it’s not very nice to say that perhaps it is their facial protuberance that brought them together, but I would bet it was, even if it was only subconsciously. I wonder if they ever think about how big their noses are, perhaps even laugh about it together over glasses of wine and pate. What would happen if one day one of them decided to fix their nose, or would they do it together? Would they argue about it? It’s funny how something so small like a nose can change your perception of an entire face that might otherwise be quite beautiful. If in focusing so much on a large nose can cause you to miss the perfect mouth and hazel blue eyes. Maybe that is why they belong together, because they share their noses and can see beyond it when a regular nosed person may not be able to. I suppose it might be rather liberating, to find a counterpart that doesn’t accentuate your flaw, but shares it and intimately understands it. In a way, I envy the twin beaks.
I am, indeed, no Hemingway, but he was possessed of many vices the same as I. I too have the girl in the café who looks away for another and is unaware of me, staring clandestinely, making up a story about her. There is always the temptation to want to break that line, to reach out across and meet these characters, these personas that I have invented. To know if what I am making up is in any way accurate. But that would ruin the magic of it all. I know that it is better to never know so that I can fill my mornings with these people and to pretend I am Hemingway, waiting for the train with my music and coffee.