Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Trick to Getting People to Say Weird Stuff to You

Yesterday, after reading the recent post about the guy buying the Jason mask in CVS and our subsequent interaction on the checkout line, my son Tom (aka Doubting Thomas for you New Testament fans), asked me if this had "really happened."

First of all, this is a blog not a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, buddy--so yes, it's true.

Second, that was only the most minute, tip of the iceberg of a lifetime of interesting/disturbing/hilarious/terrifying/thought-provoking encounters I've had with strangers since I was old enough to form sentences.

And it hasn't only been because I accost strangers and force them to talk to me. This is a development -- in only one of my many personalities -- begun recently when my frontal lobe and estrogen supply began to simultaneously curl up around the edges.

I regret to inform those who wish to embark upon a similar trajectory of "stranger interaction," that part of it is a natural phenomenon. I also attract it through some sort of aura visible only to the slightly mad or an actual scent that is exuded through my pores that only the marginally bizarro can detect.

Yes, I am that lucky.
Actual deer in the headlights

Add to this a deer-in-the-headlights physical demeanor and that, despite my bitter and unhealthy attitude, I often walk around with a little smile on my face. Factor in a bit o' crazy and you have the perfect storm.
More interesting than fiction

The fact that I grew up in New York City, seals the deal. Per capita, we have the highest number of people who talk to strangers in the known universe and (well) beyond.

I have a substantial catalog of such encounters but, like any card player, do not wish to reveal too much of my hand in the beginning of the game. Most are totally forgettable but occasionally they're weird enough to haunt me for decades.

Like this one...

I was 18 and my mother and I were on one of our typical Saturday jaunts. We'd hop the subway and head for Manhattan and go where the wind blew us, stopping only for an occasional pretzel or hot dog on a street corner for sustenance.

One blustery afternoon, my mother wanted to go into a thrift store on First Avenue but I preferred to people watch outside. Soon, a homeless man approached. He was ragged and somewhat stinky but didn't seem threatening so I allowed him to come a little too close and stare, scrutinizingly and directly, into my face.

After a steady couple of minutes, he turned slightly and said, to no one in particular, "As I thought! The bloom is off the rose." And off he went.


"Hey!" I shouted as he ambled away. "What do you mean the bloom is off the rose?? I'M ONLY 18!!!" 

But he had said his piece. Uttering not another word, he continued onward, perhaps to destroy another young girl's youthful, and already precarious, sense of self.

If there ever had been a bloom on this rose, it was then--at 18. Or, so I thought. This itinerant philosopher of dashed hopes had successfully made me doubt not only my "bloom" but forced me into an existential phase that I have never quite shrugged off.

When I told my mother about it all she said was "I told you not to talk to strangers."

Sorry, Ma, that was one bit of advice I never took. And, in hindsight, I am very glad.


  1. I was a stranger - you talked to me - and I am VERY glad you did. Mothers are not always right... (don't tell Tom) XXXOOO

  2. PS. I wander around with a little smile on my face too (my Nana told me I would never be beautiful, so I should cultivate a pleasant expression - I was 9)

  3. I won't tell Tom but, most importantly, sorry but YOUR NANA WAS WRONG!!! What a thing to say to a child. How long did it take to get over that? Grrrrr.

    But, I repeat, she was wrong...and since you are so pretty, that pleasant expression only makes you more appealing. Ooh la la.