Thursday, April 19, 2007

Shelter Character Sketch

Juliana is the talkative one I mentioned before. She is probably about my age, perhaps a year or two younger, with the typical layer-lots-of-bright-lycra female English fashion sense and the capability to turn any conversation topic into something that she can prattle on about for literally hours without pausing for more than a split-second’s breath. She makes no apologies for her talkativeness—she straightforwardly told me that people she meets either like her or dislike her because they are either “friendly and willing to talk” or “unfriendly and antisocial.” It took me about five minutes to realize that “unfriendly and antisocial,” in this case, didn’t mean untalkative, but unwilling to listen . . . and perhaps a tad impatient.

Juliana’s best working partner was a fifty-five year old lady named Susan who was cutely dressed in a jean skirt and green sweater set—her “frumpy clothes” that she could “get dusty,” she claimed. Susan and Juliana were a perfect conversationalist pair: Juliana did most of the talking, with Susan inserting her own complaints about absent workers and evaluations of donator’s bad fashion whenever a gap opened up in the conversation.

One other volunteer I see on a consistent basis is Pan. (I feel guilty that every time I say her name, I cannot help but think of the Disney movie.) She is from Indonesia, and came to the UK two years ago, when she married a British man. She’s only twenty-four, but for some reason, regarding her as a married, non-working woman who is using her time to volunteer makes me think of her as a “woman,” even though she appears and dresses just as young as any of my peers.

The first time I volunteered at Shelter and met the two managers, I tended to feel more comfortable with Barry than with Jen. I am embarrassed to say that this comfort level was based upon appearances. (It is wisely recommended not to “judge a book by its cover,” but what else do we have to base our initial judgments upon?) Barry is a thin English chap, probably in his mid-twenties, with long, thin, slightly frizzy blond hair and light-colored skin. He has very narrow, bird-like features—close-set eyes, pointed nose, thin lips—and would look scholarly except for the fact that he dresses more like a painter home from work for the day: scruffy sweaters or loose button-down shirts with worn jeans and old-looking shoes, hair tied back loosely. He also always appears to have ten things on his mind, proof of which is given when he cannot seem to give me anything productive task to do when I can see ten thousand methods by which the shop should be run more productively.

Alternatively, the other manager of Shelter is Jen: a busty, six-foot twenty-something girl with short black hair cut up around her ears, half of it died an odd faded shade of blue. She looks as though she could be from the Caribbean; she has what looks to be naturally tan skin, wide-set almond-shaped brown eyes, and supple lips. She also has massive tattoos on her upper right shoulder and left calf. (Of what, I don’t know—I didn’t want to stare.) Perhaps she was busy that day, but when I came in, she barely said hello, and I must admit, from what glimpse I got of her, I was intimidated.

However, yesterday I volunteered for my sixth time, this time with only Jen as the manager. Every other time I’ve been there, Barry has been there also, and usually Jen hasn’t been there at all, but this time Barry was nowhere in sight. When I walked in, Jen looked at me as if I had arrived from Mars and wanted to know who I was. I hesitantly stated my name and said I had met her two Wednesdays ago. Much to my relief, she broke into a knowing smile and laughed, “Oh! I didn’t recognize you at all with your hair back.” See how much difference appearances can make?

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