the assignment was to write about a character we observed from real life. i thought it was a fun exercise, mostly because it encouraged me to keep my eyes open for interesting characters. this is my response, based on two people i observed at the waldorf-astoria when Beloved and i stayed there earlier this month:
I notice them first because they’re both wearing orange. I’m wearing orange, too – a low-cut, empire-waisted pima-cotton coral number I picked up at Marshall’s on two-for-one clearance. When the pair of them push themselves onto the seats beside me, at the lobby bar of the Waldorf-Astoria, we look like a row of orange paint chips. In the city where everyone wears black, that can’t happen very often.
I sneak a glance at them out of the corner of my eye, trying to peg them for the kind of tourists they are. Honeymooners, wedding guests, reunion-goers like us? I hope they’re not as loud as the color of their shirts might imply.
The woman catches my eye but doesn’t hold my glance. She doesn’t want to talk to us, and I look a little harder. Her orange, a lighter version of my own, verges sweetly into peach. She doesn’t look old enough to need make-up, but she knows how to use it: her eyes are smudged sultry, not slutty. Her hands flutter with her purse, and she gives her order with a little trill that suggests she might be nervous.
In the seat next to mine, the man hardly notices me. His attention is focused on his companion. He gives his order to the bartender in a voice so low the bartender asks him to repeat it three times.
He looks – and smells – as if he’s just stepped out of the shower. The ghost of his after-shave wraps him in a pine-scented mist. His hair’s dark brown and neatly slicked back. It curls over the collar of his creamsicle-colored window-pane checked shirt. It’s a pretty shirt, in a loosely woven fabric that suggests some ruggedness despite the pastel color. Then I notice the tag. It’s sticking out of the collar, attached to one of those clear plastic things I sometimes miss myself. I recognize the red sticker, the block print. He got his shirt same place I got mine.
On the other side of him, the woman glances over her shoulder, fusses with her purse. “You ever stay here?” she asks.
“I like to come here and listen to the piano,” he answers as the bartender comes back with their drinks. He’s drinking beer, she’s got something frothy and orange in her martini glass. What’s with all the orange, I wonder. I think about tapping him on the shoulder, about offering to rip the tag off. I think about ripping the tag off without tapping him first. That would get him to notice me, I bet.
“I like to come here on first dates,” she says. “It’s a pretty place and I live right around the corner.”
So that explains it, I think. The fresh scrubbed looks, the brand-new shirt, and most especially the orange. It’s a second-chakra color. First dates are all about the second chakra. I decide to leave the tag alone.
“Maybe we got a match made in heaven here,” he says. He raises his glass and tips it toward hers. “Maybe this is our last.”
Color rises in her face, a flush that makes her glow. “To our last first date? I’ll drink to that,” she says.