In the first of these entries, wherein I transcribed my jottings, I made note of a twitchy gentleman sitting in the corner with his back to the wall. I didn’t make mention of him when I expanded those notes into two scenes in my second entry, because I was saving him for this. For a bit of fun, let’s delve even deeper into the fieldnotes, and just concentrate him, particularly his hair.
The old axiom holds that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the truth is that sometimes you can. Sometimes you can tell a lot about a person by his outward appearance, particularly his hair. This one young man, in particular, has much of his story told by his hair.
He walked into the cafe directly from outside and didn’t say a word to anybody. He headed straight for the seat in the corner, sat with his back to the wall, and placed his laptop between him and the rest of the cafe.
It was cold outside, but he wore no hat. The sparse, mouse-brown hair on his head provided little protection from the elements. It was apparent when he sat down that he was sweating, and continued to do so. The sweat made his unkempt hair stringy.
The young man kept twitching about the head and shoulders, jerking his head back and forth while his eyes ran wild over the cafe, and rubbing his nose with his left hand. He used his right hand type, but in a rudimentary hunt-and-peck fashion. When he wasn’t typing, he rested his head on the palm of his right hand and clutched his hair.
His hair was rapidly receding to the back of his head, but it was long enough to be combed forward and give him bangs. Wild, crazy bangs that stuck out at a 90-degree angle from his forehead. When he dragged his hand across his head, the gravity-defying bangs went in helter-skelter directions, pointing in all angles from scalp to cosmos.
He may have tried to tame his hair at some point during the day; there was a line that vaguely resembled a part on the left side of his head, but it was much lower and closer to his ear than is the norm. It may have been an attempt at a comb-over, but they traditionally go to the side in an attempt to cover the bald spot, not shoot straight up and out like a frightened Linus Van Pelt.
So there he was. Sweaty. Wild-haired. Twitchy and messy. Mashing on his keyboard with the skill of a child. Looking frantically around the room one second, clutching his hair in his fist the next. And then he left, just as unceremoniously as he entered, his stringy, crazy hair pointing the way.
When I was younger, I was the entertainment editor for my local weekly newspaper. Besides obvious editorial duties, most of the feature writing fell to me. I’d go a new place every week and report on it, sometimes interviewing people in the process.
That was nothing compared to this.
I had no idea that so much information could be gleaned just from the environs. Background details that I’d often miss became a central focus of my observations. Whole scenes can be constructed out of people you’d normally never notice. Everyone has a story, and this exercise proved that.
I have to work on my jottings. Even though I was able to use specific keywords that unlocked memories, I’d like to be able to do better. The problem came in that I often forgot to write down what I was observing because I was too wrapped up in observing it. It doesn’t take much to look down for a second and write down a word or two, I suppose. I just didn’t want to miss anything as it was happening.
The cafe was an extremely comfortable place for me. I’ve spent much of my life sitting in diners and coffee houses, watching people come and go. Surprisingly, though, I’ve spent little time in bookstore cafes, and this was my first trip to this particular bookstore. Thus, even though I had a passing familiarity with cafe culture, this particular location and subset was new to me, which meant that I wouldn’t necessarily ignore something just because I had seen it before.
This is going to be important as I move forward in my research, particularly when I talk to veterans who have been afflicted with PTSD. I don’t want to miss important little details because I’m focusing on something else. I want to be able to record as much as possible in as small a way as possible, so that I not only get the big picture but also the little nuances that are vital to telling a complete story.