Deep Observation Assignment: Eleven Examples

Angelic Atmosphere

Chadbourne Oliver

The door at the back of the car slides left, and in reels a bent old man. Dark are his sunglasses, his weathered boots, his skin. Pale and dirty are his shirt and hair, neither of which retain their presumptive original color. His torso leans forward of his legs at an obtuse angle that flirts cruelly with ninety degrees. A short cane of gnarled and polished wood bends a little under his right hand. About his neck is harsh cord that pulls tightly on the red indented skin it touches, supporting a large gray bucket wherein the hearts of artichokes once dwelled. With his left hand he lends some support to the bucket and his strained neck upon which it weighs. Where the brine of vegetables once sloshed there now comes the muted drum of filthy coins oiled by thousands of hands. The bucket is his wallet, his salvation, and above the reckless rumble of the Q train he gives it yet another purpose.

With a laborious step he heaves the bucket up and lowers it with a clunk; the entrance of his solemn percussion section. With another he thrusts the cane towards the floor and it resonates loudly. And then, with a passion that suggested the car from whence he has just come contained a yawning chasm that plunged down beneath even the loneliest depths of the New York City subway, his voice erupts forth from somewhere within that bony breast and spills into the atmosphere like smoke into fog. His rich voice is loud and unrestrained, uninhibited by the angle at which he projects towards the floor. He is an itinerant Stevie Wonder, complete with clouded, unseeing eyes and an angelic voice.

Step by step he moves arduously through the car, each left foot in sync with his coin-and-bucket bass drum, each right foot with his makeshift snare. His pace surpasses slow. It is rhythmic, it is careful, it is burdensome. It is the backbeat to a hymn, a funeral procession trudging along a path thickened by rain. And yet it is no dirge that the bent man with his gilded vocal cords does intone, but an air of rather different morals. “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy, come on sugar, let me know,” he cries. Rod Stewart’s piece has never been spewed from unlikelier lips. Could he have picked a better song? Could he have picked one worse? All the passengers are awestruck. Their eyes are transfixed, their jaws sag. Several bohemians aboard the train are practically groveling. Coins and bills are drawn forth hastily and thrown into the bucket to swell the tide of metal that breaks with each thunderous step against the plastic sides. The bent man issues appropriate thanks for each donation between lines, “If you really need me, God bless, just reach out and touch me, God bless, come on honey, tell me so, God bless.” He reaches the end of the car. The door slides right and then left, wavers, and then shuts fast.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?

 

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