A writing exercise gone awry

Today is the day I start writing again. It’s been a long time – over a year – since I’ve written regularly, and I have gotten out of the habit of making observations, of documenting the conversations and gestures of those around me, the details that make the place I’m in a particular, memorable place.

For example: today I am at the Black Drop. Having consumed most of a small pot of Earl Grey tea, an everything bagel with cream cheese, and a matonella brownie over the course of the morning, I am now pleasantly caffienated, well-fed and reading typing reading typing surfing the Internet reading. I am also eavesdropping on other customers.

I have been here for nearly four hours.

Effectively, I have moved into this table – unpacked my bag, tucked my pen behind my ear, plugged my laptop in. I have listened. I have heard, from a woman in her sixties, who is red-cheeked and unmistakably happy in a deep, deep way that has more to do with life in general than with this moment in particular, a few great stories. She wears wire-framed glasses, a T-shirt from some beach-front town (is that a starfish on front or a seashell? Difficult to tell from here) and she tells her friend, whose face I cannot see but whose hair is dyed darker and is more deliberately styled than my lady’s charming gray windswept pixie cut: “The last person I took up there was my best friend and I could’ve kept her there forever. I mean, she just understood the place, she got it–she helped with what needed helping, and she just loved the place. Of course, there are some people I wouldn’t dream of taking up there.”

I think immediately of Howards End. I imagine an estate at first, but then, stealing a second glance at the woman (who sees me looking and smiles), I decide she’d be more the sort to own a cabin in a clearing with water close by. For some reason, Canada comes to mind – Vancouver Island, perhaps? She has a family, of course, but her children are grown and she has this cabin that she visits with her husband a few times a year, and it has a big porch, lots of light, a garden full of brilliant blooms like xenias, chysanthemums and tulips, and white bookshelves full of books. Rag rugs, pale blue dishes, watercolors on the walls in white frames.

By the time I catch up to her conversation again, she’s talking about her aunt, who had succeeded in alienating the rest of the family before she died, all except for this woman, who went on to tell about how her aunt would drop in unannounced for sixteen-day visits and demand to be taken garage-saling every Saturday during her stay.

She tells how this same aunt worked for the CIA, while her uncle was a mole for the CIA for years, and about how the aunt had all this excellent really valuable stuff in her house that she kept from the family by bequeathing it to the executor of her will, one sketchy friend, and, in a particularly interesting case, a museum.

See, one of my lady’s cousins, the son of a sister that the aunt was particularly furious with, had admired a certain painting for years – apparently the work of a well-known artist who also happened to be a family friend – and when the aunt died, she willed the painting to the museum in the cousin’s hometown “so that he could go look at it.” Thoughtful.

See what I mean, though? You can’t make stuff like this up. It’s great.


3 thoughts on “A writing exercise gone awry

  1. Yr Dad

    Reminds me of back in the day, when I used to sip coffees at Tony’s and write poetry. Once I overheard–they were sitting at the next table–two old hippy dudes, with beards and ponytails, bitching about their kids. Their major issues? Hair, and music. “Dudes, you didn’t learn anything this time around, did you?”


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