Scenes from a Hat: The Stories Around Us

Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

I used to watch the improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? In a segment called “Scenes From a Hat,” the host would pull slips of paper from a hat that contained random scenes suggested by the audience. The cast would then improvise these scenes, and of course, the comedians would turn them into bits that were always outlandish and over-the-top.

When you think about it, the world around us is exactly like that. We are constantly surrounded by not only random and sometimes bizarre “scenes” taking place before us, but endless characters, settings, and dialogue that cross our paths. Everything is open to interpretation and has the potential to be viewed in multiple ways.

I love witnessing these sorts of things and taking note of them. I often write down a reminder about interesting events I witness, just in case I decide I might want to use it in a story at some point.

Inspiration is everywhere if you take notice. I am not always sure why I like the sound of a certain phrase or why an event seems intriguing, but I don’t worry about how I am going to use something. Sometimes, it is just enough to be reminded of all the unique characters that fill the world!

Here are some of the people and interesting bits of dialogue that I have overheard in the past:

  • When I was driving cross-country once, I saw a fascinating woman at a gas station. She was probably in her late 70s and was dressed all in purple, with even a purple dye in her hair. She drove a purple car with purple zebra print seat covers. She leaned out her window, smoking a cigarette as she pulled out of the gas station. I wondered what this woman’s “story” was. Why all the purple?, I wanted to ask her. Or, I could just as easily asking myself, why NOT all the purple? . . .
  • I was on my lunch break at work recently. Across from my work building, an old house is being restored as part of a historical preservation project. The house is in very rough shape, leaning somewhere between a 90 and 45 degree angle. A fence borders the yard, and I often hear construction workers sawing and drilling from behind this fence. On this one particular afternoon, I heard a tremendous crash that sent up a large puff of dust. One solitary worker yelled out a single “strong word” which I will not include here in this blog. I wondered what historical object had just been smashed to smithereens? An old piano? A priceless painting? An exquisite statue?
  • I once overheard a dejected college student talking to a friend. He must have been relaying some unfortunate news and seemed stuck in a rut. His friend replied encouragingly, “You know your life doesn’t have to suck.” Completely deadpan the negative guy countered loudly, “Well that is NEWS to me!” Haven’t we all been there?
  • I sat next to a talkative passenger on a flight to Dublin a few years ago. He was a New Yorker flying back to see his wife at their new home in Ireland. He professed to miss New York broccoli rabe the most out of everything from his home country. He said you just couldn’t get the same taste overseas and was taking some back on a bunch of sandwiches he brought along. I had never heard of broccoli rabe and asked him to explain it. Upon hearing this, he wouldn’t let me forego a taste of New York broccoli rabe and proceeded to rummage through the overhead compartment until he found his stack of precious sandwiches. He unwrapped the tinfoil around one and delicately handed it to me. I thought, now here is a fellow that has passions in life.

The list goes on, of course. It makes me wonder if someone has ever observed me and thought I was doing something out of the ordinary. It just goes to show that stories truly are all around us and you yourself might be in one of them one day! Perhaps each of us is characterized by just a few lines scrawled into the margins of some writer’s notebook, a strange character soon to find ourselves in a new story.

Are you a writer that has witnessed any events that struck you as fascinating or simply idiosyncratic? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

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