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When we entered a medical supply store,  the woman standing behind a long counter was focused on putting staples in a stapler. Our approach did not solicit her attention. Aware that the store was closing in ten minutes, I asked, “Do you have a knee sleeve?” Continuing her task, she brusquely replied, “Who’s it for?”  “Me,” I said. Aware that the store was closing in ten minutes, I added, “and if tell me where they are, I’ll go see what you have.”” u can’t!”  Still fussing with the stapler, she snapped, “You can’t.”  “Why not,” I asked. “They’re locked in a closet.” Typically I would have had no patience with someone like that, except I was distracted by her appearance: dark dyed hair, very bright red rouge, very bright red lipstick, an effort, it seemed to camouflage what I guessed to be  her 70+ age.  Back in the car (yes, I got the knee sleeve), Linda and I compared our impressions: “Sour,” said Linda. “Very red rouge,” I said.  The experience prompted me to tell Linda about my ongoing project of compiling physical descriptions from nonfiction sources, e.g. The New Yorker articles.  It has been sometime since I looked at my list, so when we returned home, I opened the file and reviewed it. Here’s one example from each category:

Body, – rattle-boned; Complexion – neither pale nor tan;Hair – unkempt;  Face –  laugh-lined;  Eyes – usually filled with humor, but not today;  Eye Brows – thick, fierce;  Nose – like the prow of a ship;  Mouth – thin, full, curved down;  Cheeks – cheekbones as sharp as knives;  Ears – asymmetic;  Chin – cinder-block;  Smiles- sweet grandmotherly;  Teeth- gleaming;  Voice- the equivalent of a nasal air honk;  Neck – scrawny and ropey;  Personality –  not prone to soapboxes;  Appearance – disheveled

Also when I’m writing about a historic person, I collect descriptions of them written by their contemporaries.  For example here is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr’s  description of Frances Perkins: “Brisk and articulate, with vivid dark eyes, a broad forehead and a pointed chin, usually wearing a felt tricorn hat, she remained a Brahmin reformer, proud of her New England background . . . and intent on beating sense into the heads of those foolish people who resisted progress. She had pungency of character, a dry wit, an inner gaiety, an instinct for practicality, a profound well of religious feeling and a compulsion to instruct . . .”

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