Another one from Mr. Novakovich. I like this one, because it's like painting a picture with words. More like a sketchpad, really; but it helps me to focus my attention on details around me and to realize there are stories always going on, if I pay attention.
From Exercise 2, Chapter 1: “Three paragraphs. When you go out to a restaurant or a bar, jot down your observations in a notebook. In one paragraph, describe a loner’s looks and behavior. In another, a couple’s looks and interaction. In the third paragraph, describe how a waiter or a bartender communicates with the customers. (You could do a similar exercise, jotting down your observations of people in a grocery store or at a street corner). Objective: To gear up your observations of the world around you toward writing.” (Novakovich, Fiction Writer’s Workshop)
He sat alone. Dressed in black slacks and a grey long-sleeved t-shirt, he seemed out of place in the late-night bustle of the diner. Most of the patrons were drunk or had been so at one point that evening. They ate to stave off the munchies and drank coffee in the vain hope of appearing sober. It didn’t work, but the coffeepot was refilled four times in an hour. He just sat there, by himself in a booth that could seat two people side by side, and drank a soda. His food, a cheeseburger and fries, congealed slowly as he ignored it. He watched the people around him – a man and woman, just out of a theater and still dressed to the nines; a group of young adults from the university trying to appear less inebriated than the others; two women having some kind of intense argument at a table in the corner – he studied all of them like it was an assignment, or he was a foreigner, some kind of alien alert for cultural clues. He sat back and cross his legs, one foot bobbing slightly, the Nike logo flashing in the harsh overhead lighting.
There were only two of them, but they gave off enough energy that it could have been several people occupying the booth. The waitress avoided them and, after a while, so did the bus boy as he made his rounds with the coffee and decaf. They bent close to each other, eyes snapping. The one on the left tossed her mane of brown hair over one shoulder impatiently, as though its presence annoyed her. Her eyes, a hazel dark enough to be brown unless the light caught them right, were a little red in the corners and shined a bit with unshed tears. Her lipstick, once pink and bright, had faded and made her lips seem naked in contrast to the green and blue eye shadow and plum color on her cheeks. A necklace with a clear stone hung between her breasts, offsetting her pink dress. She wore no stockings, just pink heels that closed with delicate straps. Her companion wore faded jeans with a white halter top and had short, spiky blonde hair. Her nails were a dark brown and cut short, which just offset the powerful hands. Muscular and fit, she dwarfed several of the men in the dining room – not by size, because she wasn’t all that tall, but in athleticism. Her face, devoid of makeup, glowed with a flush of anger. She gestured as she talked, her hands moving back and forth around her coffee mug.
The waitress moved around the dining room efficiently, collecting a plate here, refilling a water glass there. Her nametag said “Joan,” but she looked like a Marjorie or Louise. She checked her hair and lipstick in the reflection of the silver fridge behind a long counter and slipped a small silver cylinder out of her apron. Her lip color went on smooth, a glossy violet that set off her brown eyes. She fluffed her hair and went back to her rounds. She never stayed longer than necessary to collect orders and check on beverages, there but not there. No one had any time to complain, but no one got to know her, either. The man sitting by himself in the booth made for two watched her, never looking directly at her, but head always turned so he could sneak peeks. She never spoke to him, just refilled his soda a couple times. She avoided a table of two women arguing, interrupting just long enough to get their order and then set it on the table – two grilled cheese sandwiches, fries, and a side of ranch. She didn’t look twice when the blond one dunked the corner of her sandwich in the dressing and took a bite, just refilled their waters and went about her rounds.