Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Sometimes while I’m traveling I meet characters. Sometimes I simply observe them. Last weekend I was selling and signing books in Richmond, VA, at the Civil War Show. Saturday my table-mate, John, said, “You need to get you one of those.” I followed his gaze to see what it was I needed. There in the gun aisle was a woman wearing the most amazing head wear. It was a big black bubble hanging off one side of her head. When she came to our table I saw it wasn’t a hat, but a large black scarf tied in an intricate fashion. It seemed to be filled with bulky things. She looked like Phyllis Diller, I kid you not. She needed a long cigarette holder to complete the picture. Then I saw the rest of her. She was wearing a coat which was probably ..........
The woman returned on Sunday. Same cock-eyed black thing on her head, same purse, same clothing. The stockings she has cut off at the ankle so now she’s only wearing socks rather than stockings. She’s added a paper shopping bag, the kind with rope handles. I watched her strolling up and down the aisles, and then she stopped at the gun dealer. His back was facing her while he was busy with a buyer. Her hand was on his table for a while, then suddenly a flurry of action, sort of dropping something but not really, and she moved on.
Sitting beside me guarding the door was the Explorer Scout Law Enforcement. They work all these shows, these teenaged cops in training. I told him what I’d seen and he went to the gun dealer to ask if anything was missing. He looked around. I went over and showed him where he needed to look. Nothing was missing. I pointed her out. He said, “Oh, her! She’s harmless. She doesn’t take things. She’s been coming to these shows for more than twenty years. I’ve seen her in Philly, in Boston, Chicago, she goes everywhere. Never buys anything. Her husband used to come. Do you remember an actor Barry Nelson? Pretty famous in his time. She was married to him. They used to live in Connecticut. I don’t know where she lives now. Not Richmond. I think she’s a bit unbalanced. Probably out of money. Those old actors didn’t make the money they make these days.”
Would she be a great character in a book? I couldn’t make all that up. But I might write a book around her. I googled Barry Nelson. As soon as I saw his face I remembered him. The gun dealer said she was a 60s hippie who went to New York to hang out in the Village. She met Barry Nelson there while he was doing a show. He said she never grew out of her hippie years. Bohemian all the way. Her name is Nanci. Yeah. I feel a story coming on. Fiction, right? (You can google 100 top ten fiction characters for the other 99)