People ask me where do artists get their ideas. I usually reply with some form of, “Where do we not!”

Once a week or so I hang out at a fantastic place in Camden, South Carolina. The atmosphere is a mix of elegant, low-key, and casual. Sometimes I introduce myself to the person who sits down next to me. On those times, I even strike up a conversation like a normal human.

Other times, I just listen and play with my phone or tablet. They think I’m texting and checking email, but I’m really furiously taking notes from overheard conversations.

My first time there I learned that not only do the regulars sit in the same places, but their seats are considered occupied even when empty. I don’t get out much so this concept was relatively new to me.

I skipped the first few seats and settled for what I presumed was considered The New Guy’s Seat. I was the only one there at first. Soon, the regulars started coming in at their regular times. The first man who came in after me was a well-dressed elderly gentleman. He walked to my seat then turned to the right and left, as if he had entered through the wrong door.

He put a hand on the seat next to me but couldn’t quite make himself sit in it. He scooted it a few inches to the left then right. He pressed on the seat as if to prove that it was not just a figment of his imagination. I wanted to hum the theme to the Twilight Zone, but decided it was probably already playing in his head. He scanned the other empty seats (all of them were unoccupied except the one I was in). Then he spoke.

“Sam, my man, is this place under new management,” he asked the bartender.

“No. Why?”

“Because everything’s different tonight. I’m seeing things from a slightly different perspective. I’m too old for a change of this magnitude.”

I apologized for being in his seat and offered to move. He patted my shoulder and answered in true Southern Gentleman fashion.

“No young man, you stay right where you are. I’m just giving Sammy a hard time. Take care of our new friend here, Sam.” With that he sat next to me and introduced himself.

Am I learning anything from my short time there? I’m learning that if I ever complain of what I perceive to be a lack of story ideas or characters, I should just shut up and live, and just observe what happens.

Here are a few samples of my observations from The New Guy’s Seat (each is from different people on different nights):

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My friend shot a hog last weekend. He and his hunting partner lifted the hog into the back of his pickup and headed home. His friend thought it would be fun to ride in the back with the trophy hog. During the drive, the hog “came to” and charged at the guy in the back of the truck. The hog went between his legs so this guy sat on him.

Once he got on top of the hog and wrapped his legs around the thing, he realized that the longer he straddled the hog, the madder the hog got. The guy knew he couldn’t get off the hog and live to tell about it, so he rode that wild hog like a cowboy on a bucking horse bouncing around in the bed of that pickup the whole trip home. That was two days ago. My friend says that the guy is still complaining about chafing.

From the man in the seat next to him: “I thought you walked funny when you came in the door.”

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Saturday night, March 14th: Conversation between two men on either side of me. The three of us never took our eyes off of the game on the big screen.

Customer 1: Drink any green beer today?

Customer 2: No, but I’ve got on green underwear. Does that count?

Customer 1: Nope. That just means your underwear needs to be washed.

Me: I wish I hadn’t heard that.

Customers 1 and 2 (in unison): I wish I hadn’t heard it either, and he’s (I’m) the one who said it!

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I used to drive well-known rich people around back when I had a limousine service. They’d fly in for the horse races. I’d pick them up at the airport and take them to the track, then I’d pick them up at the track and take them back to the airport. I’m sworn to secrecy about their stories, so don’t ask. If I said their names you’d recognize all of them.

Like old man Dupont. If I said his name you’d know who I’m talking about. I remember him well. He always showed up with a beautiful young girl on his arm. He had a different girl every visit – blonde, brunette, red-head, you name it – always young and never the same girl twice.

He introduced me to each girl the same way. With a big wide grin he’d say, “Let me introduce you to my personal assistant,” then he’d fill in the blanks. Man I’d like to have blanks like that to fill in. I always wondered what those girls did that was so bad as to get fired before a year was up.

Then one year Mr. Dupont just stopped coming to the races. I miss that ol’ bird.

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You know what? I rescued a rooster from a dog attack once. I looked at that pitiful thing hunkered down next to a tree root and couldn’t help but take him in. I don’t mean I did that when I was a kid. I mean I did it as a full-grown middle-aged adult!

I didn’t know what to do for him at first, but when I got him home, I slathered antibiotic ointment all over his pitiful body for about three weeks. Every day the same routine. I figured if it’s good for humans, it must be good for our feathered friends too. We’re all God’s creatures in some way or another right?

I worked that ointment in under that bird’s feathers – what feathers he had left – and massaged it into his skin like a baby. After a while he took to it, and you know what? One day he turned that droopy nature of his right around. He started struttin’ his stuff and flappin’ those wings with big clops of feathers still missing.

It’s like it all just come to him one day that, hey! Dang it! I’m a rooster! So I named him Rooster! Rooster! That was his name from then on: Rooster! Rooster! Needless to say I kept that bird. He’d jump up on his chair (he had his own chair) and get to struttin’ and a cacklin’ so, and I’d yell you go Rooster! Rooster! The more I’d yell his name, the more struttin’ he’d do.

I loved that thing. And you know what? He loved me. He roosted at my head on his side of the pillow every night. Rooster! Rooster! thought of me as his friend. I guess I really was his friend. Lord knows he was mine. I miss that ol’ bird.

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