Hemingway did it and so do I.
He sat in dark, smoky cafes in Paris drinking as he captured characters for his next novel. All of his books are full of amazing characters. He was an invisible man with pen, blue notebook and glass in hand.
Sadly, my days of sitting unnoticed in Starbucks, Panera or Cheesecake Factory searching for great characters for my current project are on hold for now. Due to our Pandemic I’m forced to sit in grocery store parking lots hoping to capture a hand full of interesting characters. Someone who makes me feel something.
It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and my shift as a concierge at an assisted living community in a western suburb of Cleveland has just ended. Most wannabe writers have real jobs to pay the bills. But make no mistake I’d rather spend my days writing.
As I pulled into my favorite parking spot at Heinen’s, I spotted a stranger walking briskly out of the grocery store. Heinen’s is an upscale grocery store which provides fabulous fresh flowers, delicious pastries and has a wide variety of unique wines. It is my happy place for the time being. This stranger caught my attention as he removed his surgical mask and casually tilted his head back. There were no raindrops or snowflakes to catch and release in the sky above him. Only air.
As he took a deep breath his right hand brushed a long fringe of sandy blond hair away from his face. His baby blue eyes sparkled in the sun. However, those eyes seemed to be whispering something. Some subtle truth not yet told. At first glimpse, I thought it was sadness, but no.
I would say that it was more like a look of being in a familiar place yet feeling lost. He appears to have what I call global pandemic disorientation. It happens when you can’t plan. Certainly not in the way a fiftyish gentleman would.
Don’t look now, but I believe I’ve found my new interesting character! The book I’m working on needs both a villain and handsome protagonist. As I sat mesmerized in the driver’s seat I wondered what Hemingway would say. As a Hemingway disciple I believe he would say, “You have seen him, this handsome stranger, and now he belongs to you and whatever character you choose to write in his likeness.” Yes, I believe he would give me his stamp of approval on making my handsome stranger my new handsome protagonist.
Hemingway also said, “write one true sentence at a time.” As a writer I both strive and struggle with finding truth- this is precisely why I seek it out in others. Who is my six foot, gorgeous stranger? Dressed in a Duluth flannel-lined hunter green jacket. Timberland, brown leather, lace up boots. He is an unpretentious man. Definitely a man of substance. He will fit nicely into the surroundings I have selected for my protagonist.
In my imagination he lives in a condo with floor to ceiling windows. His view just happens to overlook Cleveland’s very own Emerald Necklace. He has a kind face, trustworthy. He looks like he’d bring your mother flowers if she invited him to Sunday Brunch. You have seen him in every Lifetime or Hallmark movie where boy meets girl, boy has misunderstanding with girl and finally, in the end, boy gets girl. He is completely unaware of his power. He has reached his shiny, black Honda. Imagine, a shiny car in Cleveland in January. The fact that he still maintains his car’s appearance makes me so happy.
This tells me that my handsome stranger has not yet lost hope. Hope in the future. Hope that one day soon it will be safe again to hug someone other than his mother. Hope that it will be safe once more to go out to dinner, concerts and sporting events. Or my all-time favorite, safe again to carry a cooler and blanket with a date to blossom Music Center on a clear, summer Cleveland night.
It’s time for me to go. My familiar stranger / handsome protagonist has driven away. Too bad – this classic man will never know that he was captured in Cleveland and helped a struggling writer find the truth she was searching for in his eyes.
(Ed. Note:Barbara Haas is a Westlake-based writer. “Due to our current global pandemic I no longer am able to sit unnoticed in bookstores, coffee shops or restaurants searching for characters for a book I’m working on,” she reports. “As I sit and observe strangers walking by I contemplate what Ernest Hemingway would do.”