I spent this past weekend at the triannual Palmer-Wirfs Antiques and Collectables Show at the Portland Expo Center. Years ago, my wife and I rented a booth at Expo as a way to get my mind out of medicine for a couple of days. But now I'm a gimpy-backed writer, and my wife and I are on the other side of the counter, walking slowly from booth to booth, visiting with our old dealer-friends, and making the occasional purchase. And while we go along, I keep my eyes and ears open for more than stuff to buy.
Antiques shows are great for generating characters for works of fiction. Not that I try to lift anyone whole from real life; rather, I keep alert for a specific gesture, a bit of body language, or a spoken line that might launch the actor into a story-in-progress, or set off a string of ideas that generates its own plot. Writing teachers like to toss out material of just this sort, and ask their students to construct stories around them. Want to try a few from my weekend's eavesdropping?
1. A couple approach a display case which contains a small Royal Doulton Toby Jug, clearly of Winston Churchill. "Look," says the man. "W. C. Fields." His wife shakes her head. "No, dear, that's not W. C. Fields. It looks just exactly like Alfred Hitchcock." The husband scowls, then points. "Lookit that cee-gar he's holdin'. Hitchcock didn't smoke cee-gars. It's W. C. Fields."
2. A customer walks up to a dealer whose booth is chockablock with antique hardware, and holds out a hand full of small brass parts. "Would you take 52 dollars for these?" In rapid succession, confusion, amazement, then amusement sweep over the dealer's face. "Well, yes, yes I would," he says. "Actually, I'd be real glad to. 'Cause those pieces only add up to thirty-one dollars."
3. Customer: "What's the best you can do on this teapot?"
Dealer: "Well, let's see...I've got it marked 75. 65's the very best I can do." Customer: "Would you take 50?"
You fill in the dealer's reply, and go from there. Who just might end up dead?