I don’t know if it was the black eyes of the people watching me or the way everything looked dark and overused in that city, but I was ill at ease, as if restlessness could be defined by a leg that wouldn’t stop bouncing under the table and an imagination that predicted I would be mugged.

Film Noir by Harry Pehkonen

I sat in a fifties-style diner and waited. I waited for half an hour, forty-five minutes, an hour. I felt like I had been waiting for people all day.

But then he showed up, his dark hair in small dreads, loose-bound behind his head. He was a black man but had sounded Hispanic over the phone. He sat down in front of me.

“Sorry for being late,” he said, “Your wife told me about what happened. You want to see it?”

He showed me the merchandise, that nefarious thing I’d driven to the city for, the thing I couldn’t live without.

“It looks good. I’ll take it.” I pulled out my checkbook.

“Woah…no no no, we only do cash here. I thought I was very clear about that on the site.”

“I didn’t see the site.”

“Right, yeah, I’m sorry about that, but we only do cash.”

“I don’t have cash,” I said, my stomach sinking, as it had been all day.

“I don’t know then. You could come back tomorrow, or…”

“I’m not coming back tomorrow. I can get cash. Can you meet again in 45 minutes?”

“The banks are closed, man.”

“It’s fine.”

I hit up the grocery store first, dropping a half-dozen bagels on the dirty conveyor belt in that dimlit place. “What’s your cash back limit,” I asked.

“One hundred dollars,” said the uninterested checker.

“Great,” I said.

The bank was next. I pulled my daily limit. With that, and with what I already I had, I think I would have enough. And then it would be home and out of this dark city where no one knew  my name. I called him.

“You got it all? Wow, I’m surprised. Alright, meet you at the Starbucks at 7th.”

When I pulled in, he was already there, his tall figure in my headlights cutting a column of light against the black. I parked illegally and he sauntered over, pulling what I wanted out of the bag and handing it to me. I put it in the front seat and handed him the dirty cash. He counted it in the parking lot, then shook my hand and left.

Driving home, I put my hand on it, feeling its soft metal purr, that touch that you only get when you’ve longed for something too many hours in darkness.

When You Feel Out of Place—Write

Thanks for bearing with me. The story above is about my trek to Atlanta to buy a used computer I found on Craigslist. The whole time, I felt like I was in The French Connection doing a drug deal. Thus, the film noir feel of the passage and the ambiguous “merchandise.”

Yesterday, I felt out of place. I spent eight hours in a city I don’t know very well, waiting for people I didn’t know at all.

I read somewhere that the best time to write is when you first arrive at a new place whether that’s a new country, city, or even restaurant. Everything is fresh and new and strange. You don’t have those lenses over your eyes that tell you what to ignore and what to notice.

We writers can be social misfits. While sometimes that’s uncomfortable, it gives us a creative edge. When you’re an outsider, you see things others don’t.

When have you felt out of place? How can you capture that experience in words?

PRACTICE

Write about a time you felt out of place, awkward, and uncomfortable.

Try not to focus on your feelings, but project your feelings onto the things around you (for example, in the story above, I talked about darkness again and again because I felt confused and uncomfortable most of the day).

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments.