Taking candy from strangers

Have you ever been in one of those situations with strangers where you go from meeting them to knowing their blood type, social security number, and family tree by the end of your conversation? If you’re like me, the entire time you’re probably thinking….

UGHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhh. Go away.

I can’t be the only one, right? But, I’ve had a couple opportunities lately for these conversations. (I’ve been told it’s because I make eye contact. I can’t help it. People are so interesting.) I’m learning a lot about myself and my relationships with others from these experiences.

I guess I’m working on openness. (I’m a librarian. Open access is kind of our thing.)

Zum Beispiel, I met a woman from Anderson, Indiana because she noticed my bank card and asked where I was from. We ended up talking about Scatterfield Road and the Waffle House. (Anderson is where the adorable Peter J. and I began our journey together 13 years(!) ago. He wooed me at the Waffle House with his knowledge of Tom Wolfe and Bob Dylan.) I wouldn’t have had that conversation with the woman if I was a bitch, like I wanted to be.

My new favorite interaction occurred at the laundromat the other day. A woman was having a conversation with someone I assumed she knew intimately. It wasn’t until she started talking to me that I realized there are no strangers to this woman. (The guy she was talking to couldn’t even speak English, so he must’ve been an easy target for one-sided conversations.) Her life is an open book.

Picture this: me in my “laundry day” gear, dirty, greasy hair, hungover, sunglasses. Her: bursting with the possibility to tell a new person a story about herself. Me: wanting to tell her to fuck off, it’s laundry day, lady. Her: not allowing me the chance to get a word in edgewise.

But, here’s the best part. She was talking about all the blues concerts she had been to in her life. We both shocked ourselves when she asked if I knew who Pinetop Perkins was. Not only do I know who Pinetop Perkins was, I used to live two houses down from him in La Porte, Indiana, on Division Street. I remember how he would sit on his porch, covered in the shadow of his cowboy hat. I don’t think I appreciated that then. And I never expected to connect with an old hippie over this obscure person while waiting for my underwear to dry.

I think the Midwest in me wants to automatically reject these interactions, because I’m afraid that someone will ask me to do something I don’t want to do. And I don’t want to be rude, right? God forbid we hurt someone else’s feelings. (Thanks, Puritans!) What I’m realizing is that its ruder to outright reject another person simply because I’m afraid of something that I can’t possibly predict. (Worse yet is the “Midwest Nice” tendency to allow someone to do something you don’t like, only to complain about them behind their back.) This woman simply wanted to talk. She didn’t want anything from me except acknowledgement of her existence. I can dig it.

I do have to work on my newfound tendency of saying yes to everyone, though. Sometimes, I don’t realize what I’m doing until I’m driving through the desert on a quarter tank of gas, no cell signal, with a complete stranger and realize they could kill me and assume my identity and no one would know. (Just kidding, mom, don’t believe this. I wouldn’t do that. Ever. Okay, just once, but it all worked out and I didn’t actually die, see!)

My point, and I’m not sure I actually have one but you followed me this far so I might as well get to it, is that sometimes I think we live in a world that tells us to assume guilt until innocence is proven. Mostly, at least so far, people I meet have a lot to offer and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be human. I’ve gotten more good out of my random stranger encounters than I have bad. What’s life about, anyway, if not to experience it with others? We can bridge so many differences just by hearing each other’s stories.

At least, I’d like to believe that’s what Pinetop would say.



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