When I walk down the street and pass by people my first instinct is to put them into narrow and tidy categories: hipster, corporate jerk, skater burnout, sorority girl. But the problem is, nobody is that simple. When someone sees me, to what category do they assign me? Surely without knowing me they can’t really be categorizing correctly, yet I do the very same thing. Fair enough, the second option is to try to imagine their backstory. This is where it gets interesting. What layers are there? Things they wouldn’t even tell their lover, things that make up a small part of who they are, but colors them like blue-stained fingers from an indigo weaver from Mali.
Here are some characters I saw on the street yesterday who, like every one of us, defy categorization. These are fictional characters based on real people I saw. I took their faces, clothing, manner of walking, and tried to paint them as real people. When you move past the veneer, the cheap first pass at type-casting, you realize everyone is a character.
Character 1 – Maurice Zingler
- Older male, tan skin, mid-seventies, German heritage but doesn’t look it
- He worked in the import business until the early seventies when a new business partner was involved in some racket to smuggle kids in from Southeast Asia for adoption—he got out of the business before it got bad and is a house painter now
- He and his wife, Guadalupe, breed canaries. He puts up with the noise and smell because it makes enough money for most of their groceries.
Character 2 – Alex Cibrian:
- Early 20s, Armenian grandmother (God rest her soul)
- Works in the marketing department of a successful sperm bank
- A quarter of his take-home income last year was from fantasy football winnings
- Hates the idea of sperm but the pay his good and he can tell his friends it is “family planning” so he doesn’t have to use the word
Character 3 – Luisa de la Cruz:
- Mid-20s, Peruvian national, lesbian
- Came to U.S. on student visa to study ethnomusicology—is interested in Native Americans
- Didn’t finish school because she ended up going to Burning Man and taking a lot of mushrooms
- Now she travels the West Coast with two other friends, designing tattoos and sleeping on couches
- Her parents think she is going to graduate this year—hasn’t told them anything yet
Character 4 – Ramón Villas:
- Mid-30s, Mexican national
- Works as a drywall hanger on large commercial jobs
- Lost two front teeth and a piece of his brow bone in a car accident when he was two
- He lives with his brother, who grows organic grapes and photographs nude women
- Greatest aspiration is to buy a concrete house with a satellite dish
- Unbeknownst to him, his used pickup used to belong to a smuggler and it still has five hundred dollars sewn into the headliner above the driver’s seat