Interesting Dynamic

I watch people. I consider myself an extroverted misanthrope, if that's allowed. I love to talk and joke and laugh, but that's usually when I'm the center of attention. Drop me in the middle of a crowd where I don't know anyone, and I'm not like a real extrovert that goes around introducing himself to everyone. I kind of just shrink and disappear unless someone bridges me into a group where I might contribute in some meaningful way to a conversation. So what that often means is that I watch people. I watch all kinds of people, studying how they act, how consistently the act, and more importantly how they contradict themselves. It's how to build character in a story. Really all life is a story. So why not study its characters?

I saw something the other day that really piqued my interest. I work in an office building in Boston. There are a whole stretch of publishers right in a row, so you get some 10- to 12-floor building filled with editors and project managers and the like. Because we're so close together, all our floors are secured to keep the enemy from infiltrating and steeling our precious books. That means the building has a person in the lobby checking badges. I don't know their names except for Alex, the morning guy. There are plenty of others that rotate in and out during the day. So I can't say who the employee was in the lobby because it was an afternoon while I was leaving, but what I saw really made me want to write it down.

It was bitter cold. We've had a mild season so far, but the tall buildings can sometime create wind tunnels and when a strong, cold wind blows, it can cut like a knife. This sends the homeless looking for some place warm. It may be a winding alley that breaks the wind, it may be a shelter, often it's the subway. I come out of the elevator and pass the front desk and there is a woman dressed very obviously in everything she owned. She had half a mouth of teeth and her skin was so weathered she looked a couple decades older than she probably was. She was talking and laughing with the guy at the front desk.

There's always a moment of pause when encountering a homeless person in the big city to determine what type of homeless person they are. Are they merely destitute? Do they have problems (war vet, etc) that have driven them onto the streets? Are they addicts? Are they bat shit insane? It's really only this last one you worry about. The addicts leave you alone during the day. The worst you usually get is a yelling at. Maybe some spit. The destitute and the damaged will accept your charity but ignore you if you ignore them. But the bat shit crazy people are the dragon in the china shop.

So I pause, waiting to see if homeless lady is getting escorted out, if the cops are on their way, or if all is well. I hear the desk guy laugh and know all is well. Whew. It's always hard dealing with the crazy ones because you want to calm them and help if you can, but the wrong word or gesture may get you attacked. More often you just want them to be quiet until you get to where you're going and you can leave them behind. Ahhh, life in the big city.

In this case, though, everything was copasetic. I listened to their conversation as I crossed the lobby to leave. She was claiming she worked in the building but had forgotten her badge. Wouldn't he be a dear and let her go up and get it from her desk. He laughed, said she had tried that one last time, and she should try a different tactic.

When I stepped outside and got a blast of cold air in the face, I finally realized what he was doing. He wasn't allowed to let her loiter and he obviously couldn't let her go up to the secured floors. But if he was "helping" her, he could let her stay for awhile and stay warm. So she "lost her badge" and he helped her figure out "what to do" and they joked around for awhile while she thawed out and then she went on her way.

That, in itself, I think is cool. But I thought it would be a good twist to the "whodunnit" stories that you see in shows like Castle where the homeless are there only to be barely-functioning witnesses that can't testify on the stand, but can give the police the clue they need to carry on the search. What if you had a higher functioning homeless person that was friends with a doorman. The doorman let her come inside and warm up for awhile. She got warm and didn't cause any trouble. They all laughed, everything was spiffy, and then...THE MURDER! Lots of opportunity for red herrings while the detectives get over their assumptions of homeless people and realize they've been approaching the whole thing from the wrong perspective.