31 DaysDay 24: CLOTHES {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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Coffee and a Story

Every morning it’s the same routine: a full pot of coffee at home to fuel my social media addiction (it’s for my art, so it’s okay) and then sift through the piles of laundry for the day’s painting or sculpting clothes, twist my hair into some kind of pile on the top of my head, take up my supplies and head out the door for the brisk (sometimes cold, sometimes just fast-paced) walk to the Symphony T-stop, and wait. The green line isn’t bad if you’re on the B, C or D lines; the E line, however is hit or miss. And there’s nothing worse than coming down the stairs and seeing a train pulling out of the station because that means you’re probably looking at at least a 15-minute wait. It’s good to have a book and earbuds even if they’re only props.

It was during this morning routine that I first met Clarence; okay, so it was more that I was accosted by Clarence, but it got better after that. Book open in my hands, earbuds snugly in my ears with nothing playing, I caught his movement in my direction out of the corner of my eye. And, see, the thing is, once you’re under the streets at the Symphony station, there aren’t many options for avoiding characters like Clarence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those highfalutin types who side-steps the homeless issue in this city, but I’m also not much of a morning person when it comes to a ranting, raving and somewhat inebriated homeless sort.

But there he was – Clarence. And he was on a B-line for me, so I did the only thing I could; I lowered my book and looked up at him. The first thing you notice about Clarence is that amidst the grunge and the second-hand clothes he wears an ascot and not just one of those fake puff tie ones that you slip on over your head, but a genuine silk Victorian-style ascot. A shining silk purple compass ascot. It will cause you to do a double take, which is what happened right before Clarence began his ranting monolog directed at yours truly (but, I’m pretty convinced that I attract crazy).

And no matter how much sour whiskey odor he ferried in my direction on his breath, no matter how many expletives he peppered his speech with, there was no way I was abandoning this moment until I knew the story behind that purple compass ascot. With the composure of the Pope, I sat and withstood Clarence’s barrage. I knew I had more stamina that a man who was three sheets to the wind at 8:15 in the morning. So, I sat and I waited. I waited as another E-line train entered the station and passengers exited and other passengers boarded. I waited while Clarence paused to get his train of thought back on track. I waited while my bloodstream demanded more coffee immediately.

When at last Clarence finished his tirade, I stood, looked him squarely in the eye and said, “I need coffee. You need coffee. Let’s get that coffee, sir.”

At first he bucked, but it was coffee and the likeliness of food and time with me (okay, that last part may be a bit of a stretch, but either way), and so he agreed.

We all have a story, don’t we? Whether we’re okay with it or not. Whether we are creating it or just letting it happen to us. We all have a story. Even people like Clarence. Please note, I don’t say that because I don’t think Clarence’s story is less important than anyone else’s; but because I know his story is invalidated every day. And yet, there he is. Eyes bright and curious beneath the alcohol haze. Mind brilliant unless also under the influence of alcohol. Beauty in every beat of his heart.

And that incredibly beautiful ascot he wears and holds dear.

I don’t know why life chooses to beat some people up and not others, but Clarence happens to be one of those people life is beating up and I have yet to figure out why. His voice is a rich baritone and his wit is sharp and he’s a weathered Broadway star. He’s acted, he’s sung, he’s danced, he’s presented at the Tony’s (thus the gorgeous ascot), he’s recited spoken word poetry. He is a gift to this world. And yet, I pass him daily near the Symphony stop in the E-line.

So far, he has refused my offers of help and cheerleading.

I think, what he needs is, well, to be needed. To help someone else. And what he doesn’t know is that I am a prime candidate for that. I scrape by and I believe in what I’m doing. But, so did Clarence. I need his wisdom and his wit. I need his help.

Anyway, today, in the studio I share with five other artists, Clarence sits and adjusts his ascot, taking it off and deftly retying it so that it is perfect. His smile is beautiful behind the stained teeth and weathered face and I hope that my brush strokes will capture him and his essence. And I hope, I pray, that he will continue this mentoring that he doesn’t even realize he’s providing.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: CLOTHES – Use a particular and fairly vivid piece of clothing to tell a story: a sweater worn by two sisters who sleep with the same man while wearing it (at least initially), or a loud sports jacket someone buys at a Goodwill store before realizing the jacket has three bullet holes in its back. What does clothing say about us? How does it select us, as opposed to being selected by us? Who tells us to buy this or that thing (other than salespeople)? What do clothes hide? What do they reveal? {Exercise 21 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

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3 thoughts on “Coffee and a Story

  1. I believe to be seen is what homeless people need most. To be really seen and I love that you listened to Clarence and I love that you’re getting so much from him. I love that you see him.

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