The Model Citizen

There’s an old man sitting at the table next to me exhibiting all the signs of progressing past the point of voluntary mobility: uncontrollable bed head, strange breathing patterns, booger picking, what seem to be unreliable joints, and some real thick toenails.

He’s sitting at his table, back against the wall, legs crossed, staring at each person in the café. If it were anyone else, I might be a little freaked out because honestly, I’m pretty sure that no one would ever choose to have an elder think about them amidst a deep “nose dive,” if you will. It’s just weird. So what could make this old guy different—what could make it okay that he is studying each patron, his deep-set eyes continually darting around the café?

Well, dear friends, sitting on his lap is a portfolio of sketches, some colored, some in pencil, some in ink…and they are good. He uses simple lines capturing only the impressions absolutely necessary to differentiate his subjects. He’s got an entire “Profolio” (hello product placement) filled with hundreds of sketches, but he continually flips back to the same one—a woman with shaggy hair and simple features, recorded in simple black ink. I follow his eyes off the pages and onto a young woman on the other side of the café, who also has shaggy hair and simple features. She doesn’t see him watch her and he doesn’t see me watch him…the perfect triangle. The date on her page is different than today’s date—clearly, they’re both regulars here.

After an older woman walks in, his eyes perk up and he turns to a different page in his folder. This time, ink outlines are colored in with pastel pinks and some beige smudges. The woman walks past both of us and sits behind me—he makes an effort to stand up and after a minute of regaining his fragile composure, he picks up his portfolio and scoots toward us. When he finally lands at her table, he seems a little out of breath but manages to look the woman in the eye. He says, “Ma’am…(dramatic pause)…you are my model.” Call me a romantic, but even when emitted from the crusty mouth of an old man, HOW BEAUTIFUL.

She reacts less than enthusiastically, adjusting her eyeglasses and squinting at the piece of paper. “Well, I mean, I guess that could be me. I do have short hair and I have a hat, you know, with a brim like that…but I don’t know, I’m not sure. It doesn’t really look like me.” He and I (obviously I’m eavesdropping) both pause. He attempts to point out all the ways in which the piece was made for her, but she gives him nothing. His eyes fall for a moment and he turns to make his way back to his table.

I am heartbroken for him. I know it isn’t actually a huge deal but let’s be real—wouldn’t you be beyond thrilled if someone had rendered a spot on sketch of you? Wouldn’t you feel honored, as though you yourself were the piece of art? I would.

So, to honor this man who is so talented and so greatly underappreciated, I did what he does best—I turned the tables and I sketched him. Clearly it’s not anywhere up to par with his sketches (it actually looks more like a cross-eyed old lady), but I did my best. I don’t think I should ever show him because I don’t want him to be self-conscious, but someday I’d like him to know that for a few minutes, he was my model.

By Morgan K. Moretz

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