Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Left-Handed Freemason from Dover
Have you read the Sherlock Holmes stories? I have. I've also seen all the wonderful Jeremy Brett versions on PBS. And I have come to the conclusion that I will never be observant enough to be a detective.

Sherlock Holmes could walk into a room, look at a man for 10-seconds, and declare quite definitively that he was in the presence of a retired doctor from Scotland whose wife had recently died and who had once served in India, probably on the North-West Frontier.

I can look at someone for 10-seconds and tell you whether that person was male or female. And that's about it.

How often do we look at the people around us? Not our friends, I mean we'll notice when they get a new haircut or new glasses. But when someone walks into the cafe where you're dining or you're standing in line at the grocery store, do you look around you and try to figure out who these people are?

I do. I suck at it, but it's fun. Perhaps it's the writer in me, but I love to create stories about the people I come across in my day. Unlike Sherlock I don't have the knack of correctly accessing who they are but I do have a lovely time inventing them in my head. I don't notice the small details that can give me the near-sighted musician who lives in a house without electricity. Partially because I don't want to stare and partially because I don't want to be right -- I want to amuse myself.

So I decide that the guy with the large parcel at the post office is a photographer sending proofs to his publisher in London, or the woman reading People as she waits for her yogurt and fruit to be rung up is, in fact, the mistress of a rich guy and she's heading home to her paid-for apartment to wait for Mr. Rich to stop by.

I tend to give people far more interesting lives than they probably live. I cast people as artists and political asylum-seekers. Ex-hippies and former CIA analysts. Former Russian ballerinas and aspiring French chefs. In reality they are students and harried moms, software designers and high school teachers. Auto mechanics and retail clerks. So maybe I'm doing them a favor by coloring their lives with mystery, romance, and excitement. And wouldn't they be amused to know that the woman with the glasses and the shopping cart full of cat food was looking at them and deciding they were former Navy fighter pilots?

So no, I'll never be good at telling the police they're looking for a woman with a limp and an Italian accent. But I can still make my time at the bank more interesting by trying to figure out which one is cheating on their spouse.

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