I Collect People

I Collect People

I watched as a gnome of a man climbed two levels of theater seats, his sweater draped over his trembling arm. He eased his body forward, almost as if afraid of leaning too far and falling over. His eyes squinted as he looked down his nose at the brass plate with the seat number. It’s what I would have done had I been looking at it even with my glasses.

Teri smiled at him, pointed to the seat and said, “It’s number eight.”

He continued to glance at the back of the chair a moment more, and then glanced at Teri, then, back at the number plate. He looked at the next seat, staring as hard as he could without falling into it. Then, he went back to the first seat and stared some more.

Again, a little louder, Teri said, “It’s number eight.”

He tried to lean forward but caught himself falling and stopped. His eyes went wide then narrowed again. I understood how he felt. It was dark. I could barely see the floor, nevertheless, those two-inch number plates. Char found our seats for us. Teri shook her head as she settled back into her seat. She had tried to help. 

In the aisle, the man’s wife waited, smiling at her husband, letting him lead. This little gnome is the type who would drive around town for hours instead of asking for directions while his wife would keep silent so as to save his dignity.

For five minutes he stared at the dark seat numbers. Finally, he looked at Teri as if she had just appeared. “Do you know what seat this is?”

She smiled. “Number eight.”

He nodded as he turned toward his wife. “I’ve found them. These are our seats.”

I wanted that couple. So, I took them.

Down my row, across the aisle, were a trio of seats with an elderly couple and a middle-aged man. The man, about six feet, four inches, shaggy cinnamon hair parted in the middle, stood, took off his coat and meticulously folded it in half, pressing the arms together. He then faced the half wall beside him and draped the jacket over it. But it wasn’t right. He shuffled it about until he had it in just the right spot. Smiling at the elderly couple, he sat back down.

Something still wasn’t right, however. He placed his program on the floor, lining it up perfectly between his brown leather shoes, and then stood again. Taking his wallet out of his right rear pocket, he immediately put it in his left front pocket. He then sat down and, leaning forward carefully, retrieved his program from the floor. A Dr. Pepper can rested beside him, its opening facing away from him. He folded his hands in his lap and waited.

I took him as well.

The next day, I was at the mall. The girls had to buy some expensive lotion that smelled like fruit. I never mind the adventure because I get to sit in the food court, sip over-priced coffee and add to my collection of people. It never takes long.

She was young, probably not even out of her teens. She had raven black hair with a burgundy strip of locks on her right side. Dark red eye shadow painted her eye lids, bringing out her thick liner and giving her face a porcelain sheen. A maroon corset hugged her slender body and pushed her pale petite breasts upward. Lace fingerless gloves covered her hands and ran up her forearms, matching her fishnet ebony stockings. Her skirt, also black, was puffy and flared out if she turned too fast. Her heels were more boot-like and rose to mid-calf.  Her lips, painted dark velvet red, were pursed in a permanent pout.

Out of place, swinging in her vampire-white fingers was a shopping bag from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I couldn’t help but wonder. What would a girl dressed as she was find interesting among sports merchandise? I had to know.

So, I took her. As butterfly collectors pin their specimens to corkboards and coin collectors have their cardboard holders, I tack my finds into a black composition book that I purchased at Dollar Tree.

Star Wars had just come out when I was eleven and my parents bought me every action figure that hit the shelves. They went everywhere with me, from my bedroom to the car to the backyard and playground. I would create elaborate storylines of adventures and work them out with the 4 ½ inch replicas of men and aliens.

My Star Wars collection vanished years ago much to the dismay of my collecting son. So, I now use the people I kidnap throughout my day. With them I can create adventures just by mixing up the people who dwell within the wide-ruled pages of my notebook. What would happen if the gnome of a man was with the pouty-lipped girl from the mall at, say, an amusement park? Or touring the Statue of Liberty? What if the quirky theatergoer with a touch of OCD was a trash collector or mortician? The possibilities are as endless as the people that can be taken.

Last night at the gym I frequent, I stole five more. Two were a team of good ol’ boys in greasy jeans, dirty ball caps and faded t-shirts. They wandered the gym, pretending to work out but really staring at the girls in tight exercise pants. The next reminded me of the weakling on the back of the old Archie Comics that was always getting sand kicked in his face. He had greasy dark hair, black-framed glasses and was barely a hundred pounds. Yet, he was always there, faithfully going through his routine, listening to his iPod. The fourth was a gangly woman, mid-thirties with stringy hair. She always wore spaghetti-string thin blouses with no bra so her droopy breasts swayed like small sacks of sand. She did as much walking around the gym as she could, trying to be seen as much as possible. The good ol’ boys followed her closely.

The fifth guy was thick with muscles and loved to talk. As a matter of fact, I saw him talking more than I saw him exercising, so at least his jaw muscles were well-toned. Obviously he did workout at one time, as his biceps and chest displayed. When, however, was the question. He did carry a hand towel and bottle of water with him so he appeared ready to pump that iron; he just never did it.

I look at this odd mix of people and can’t help but wonder how they would react together inside a haunted house. Would the good ol’ boys score with saggy breasts? Perhaps the ninety-pound weakling saves the day—or night—while the mountain of a guy remains cowering in the corner, knees knocking. Part of the fun of collecting is to take the predictable and turn it on its head. Sometimes, it’s that way in life.

When I was part of our high school’s concert choir, I learned that people did not fulfill their appearances. Our choir was invited to join the college choir for a song at a combined performance and I had no clue how my part went, which for me was not surprising. Sometimes we are predictable. So, since I sang bass I figured I would pick the college student who looked like the best candidate to follow. I chose a big—extremely big—mountain of a guy. This man had low voice written all over him. The music started. The director waved us in and, to my devastating education, my bass was actually a first tenor. I was sunk. All I could do was stand there and lip sync.

After the concert, my mother was no consolation. She laughed at my ignorance, knowing exactly what I had done by the nauseous expression on my face. I begged her not to mention books and covers and went for a Slurpee.

Most people portray an image; invent themselves, into what they want people to see. I like to add them to my collection, ignore what they’re revealing and figure out what they’re hiding. And everybody hides something. What if the girl dressed in black really dislikes people and knows that her outfits make others leave her alone? The weight lifter, perhaps, has a bone disease and he’s afraid to tell anyone. So, he walks around the gym using conversation to disguise his fear. They make good characters for my collection. They make good stories, even if the stories aren’t really theirs.

So, as you walk the park or mall, beware the lone person sipping coffee and jotting in a notebook. And watching. You just may be being put into a collection.

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