(Originally posted on 2/8/2009, on Writingscape V1.0)

Have you ever noticed how one minute, strangers you see on the streets look right through you, avoid acknowledging you or giving you the time of day, but the very next minute, if you happen to do something to trigger it, you’re human and nonthreatening and the Flavor of the Week?

For instance. I had a check-up at the doctor’s last Tuesday. No one ever speaks or starts any conversations in that waiting room, ev-vah. Folks are always closed off and on guard. You can even feel that in the air. Now, don’t get me wrong—I can certainly understand why. These days, if you’re smart, you watch your personal space because you don’t know who’s a lunatic, or a scammer, or a threat to you. The freaks don’t only come out at night anymore, a fact. It’s unfortunate, but making yourself accessible can be dangerous.

So, I visually swept the place in the manner of a drug-sniffing canine for anything out of place, signed in, and chose a secluded seat like everyone else had. NO eye contact was happening in that room, I tell you. I was also multi-tasking that day, so I whipped out some knitting and dove into it. (I don’t have enough winter stuff.)

You know that feeling that creeps up your neck when you’re being watched? It hit me after about five minutes, and I glanced up. People were smiling and grinning at me as if I were wearing a halo and had descended from On High. This one woman’s face reminded me of the Grinch’s when his heart “grew three sizes that day,” all shining and what not. It was scary. A guy started talking about his teenage daughter, and oh, what did I think about such-and-such in the local paper? They weren’t paying any attention to what was in my hands. They were looking straight in my face.

On the way home, I pondered. And remembered a similar scene in my mother’s oncologist’s office, when I whipped up half of a sock on double-pointed needles while mama took her treatment. How strangers were suddenly as pleased to see me as if I were The Madonna Herself. How a little old white man in a wheelchair rolled up and began talking about his arthritis, and his son the doctor.

Knitting or crocheting makes me completely nonthreatening to the general public, and intelligent to boot (should I be insulted?). Though, I’m sure, somewhere there’s a serial killer or thief or rapist who knits or crochets. Huh.

Have you noticed any really simple triggers in your daily life that affect people this way? In your writing, do your characters or the people around them have simple triggers? If not, consider it, for the realism and flavoring you’ll get.

They don’t say “real life is stranger than fiction” for nothing, you know.

Image credit: Stephe Thornton

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