Tag Archives: strangers

A stranger’s “advice”

“Dtjscjnfrgjvxwf juggnjrxcbhhuhb gghu” said the woman seated two computers away from me at the public library. At least that’s more or less what I heard. I had a wicked cold all week and the resultant congestion had muted my usually normal hearing. Although I felt sure I was past being contagious, I’d made a point to sit at a wholly unoccupied circular array of computers so as to not get too close to anyone or to be alarming or annoying with the residual sniffling and throat clearing. This stranger had subsequently taken a seat two away from me at the round table.

Immediately before she’d spoken, I felt what was sure to be a involuntary coughing jag coming on so I’d prepared to temporarily vacate my computer and go hack and choke in private.

On hearing her incomprehensible-to-me words I turned to her and asked, “What?”

You’re missing minerals.

There was no “Excuse me” or “Could I offer you advice?” or ” Could I tell you something ” or “I don’t mean to bother you but…” None of the typical or possibly expected statements were proffered before the unusual non sequitur was uttered.

The immediate response that came to my mind was “I’M SICK!” but rather than say that I said nothing. For one, I sensed that replying would be a tacit agreement to enter into a conversation I was probably not going to want. For another, as I mentioned, I felt that unpleasant “tickle” in my throat and watering in one eye that announced a coughing fit was imminent. I hopped up and hustled to the lower floor of the building to the ladies restroom where I coughed and weezed till the jag passed.

While there I considered the encounter. Now, I’ve lived a number of years. I’ve had all sorts of interactions with strangers. People have said oh-so-many things to me. I’ve learned that a certain degree of restraint and internal skepticism is a good idea when dealing with strangers. Far more often than not, when a stranger says something to me, they want something and have an agenda. As a rule I am really not a fan of agendas.

All that being said, I considered the woman and her words. I am not so cynical and jaded that I unequivocally believe that a stranger could never have something of value to tell me. Secretly, the idea of a soothsayer appearing with wise and insightful tidbits to offer is kind of appealing. That is, a random encounter with a magical person, or a person with magical qualities, seems interesting! No one has ever come along who could see into me, immediately penetrate my very being, but would I say it could never happen? No, I wouldn’t BUT the odds say “not likely.”

Still, I considered the subject at hand. Minerals? Gee, I’d been taking a multivitamin regularly. Granted, it’s a men’s multivitamin that I’ve purchased a few times from Amazon because the price was substantially lower than the women’s version, but I take Calcium to compensate for its absence plus I haven’t grown a beard or anything so I figure it’s okay. In fact I had wanted to blog – but hadn’t – that to my happy surprise, I never got sick this past winter. No colds, no flu. I don’t remember the last winter I escaped unscathed by sickness of some stripe. Despite the current sickness I felt reasonably sure that between the multivitamin and my vitamin/mineral rich diet, I was doing well by myself.

I knew that on return to the computers, I could take up the conversation, perhaps ask the woman to clarify, but I hadn’t been wild about her approach and in part due to my weakened state, I wasn’t really in the mood. I might start something and quickly be sorry. Minimally, any further discussion would be distracting. No, this was one to let go. I was careful not to make eye contact and resumed what I’d been doing at the computer. The woman did not say anything more. After a time she got up and left. I took a look at her retreating figure. Nah, she didn’t look like an oracle.

Back the hell off already, I don’t know you!

In public, strangers, men and women alike, are overly familiar with me. Enough so that I sometimes ask myself if I really do know them after all: Am I living my own version of the film Memento?? My memory is gone but I’m the last one to know?

People march right up to me, they act like they know me, they just start talking, they interfere, they offer unsolicited advice, they presume, they get in my space, they make personal comments, and they pay little or no attention to how I’m reacting. Ruling out times when there’s actually something wrong with the person, I’m referencing behavior that is more than casual friendliness. Friendly is fine. I’m friendly! I know the difference. This week alone I had three Close Encounters of the Overly Familiar Kind.

In a store, an older woman who was on her way out, swerved and made a beeline for me where I stood looking at the store circular. She parked herself right next to me to, I’m guessing, look at the circular in my hand. Now, there was a big stack of them sitting right by the door and she was done shopping. I answered her when she spoke – and I took a good look to make sure I didn’t know her, which I absolutely didn’t – but I was perplexed. Also, she had kind of pinned me in, which ya just don’t do, so that with the stack of baskets to my immediate right and her to my immediate left, I was oddly stuck. I didn’t want to be rude, so when I could, I simply took a step forward to create space between us. But that didn’t work, because somehow before she left, she moved again so that her bosom actually touched me. Uh, if your boobs are making contact with me and we are not engaged in a friendly hug because I know you, you are standing too close!

In a thrift store, I was looking at clothes and had several items in my hand. One of the workers passing by suddenly reached to take them out of my hand. Only after the thwarted attempt did she say she’d keep them “at the front” so I’d have both hands free to shop. I looked at her and with some vigor said, no, I was going to try them on (which you are allowed to do, I am just saying). The woman didn’t apologize or say, “oh, okay” or any such thing. After that interaction, I remembered that this store has had trouble with occasional theft so I wondered if the “offer” to hold clothes was actually motivated to prevent thievery. Don’t know, doesn’t matter; ya don’t try to take things from strangers’ hands, especially not those belonging to customers.

At the grocery store, not only did the cashier volunteer he “heard change” in my wallet when it was time to pay for my purchases, he reached across the belt to try to take cash out of my hand. I promise you, I don’t ever dilly-dally around in a store, holding up the line and being a pain in the ass. My stuff is tidily on the belt, and if I’ve got coupons, they are in my hand, as is my wallet and cash or debit card. His impatience or presumption seemed to be more a matter of poor social skills which I might overlook but for the accompanying smugness in this fellow. I did not let him take my money, which I was counting, out of my hand. What I wanted to say was: “What the hell? If I was a 6′ tall, 200-plus pound guy, would you try to take money out of my hand?!”

Talkin’ to strangers

I often talk to strangers. Or rather strangers often talk to me. I think I must have a quality that makes me seem accessible. That’s my best guess. Well, also that I am responsive. I do not walk around staring at the dirt, sending off a vibe that says “Leave me the hell alone” unless I am sick or really tired, or dealing with a personal crisis; those are the main conditions when I TRY to send off that vibe, but even then, I’m not always successful.

I generally don’t mind to talk to strangers and sometimes I enjoy it, but I do have limits and conditions. If a stranger engages me in conversation, there are a couple buttons they can push that will make me pull back and shut it down. Any kind of racist commentary, particularly with the assumption that I agree with it (after all why wouldn’t I? I’m a very fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blonde woman, so I must be on their “team”, grrrr). Somebody trying to sell something to me, especially if they initially try to make it seem like they’re just making conversation, definitely irritates me. I’ve learned to make short work of hucksters and shysters. Probably the last big turn-off is when the other person isn’t remotely interested in what I have to say, all the more so when they’ve asked me a question but don’t listen to the answer. Or better (worse) yet, when they argue with the response I offer. I’m going to spend my time arguing with a stranger who’s unsatisfied with my answer? Oh, I think not!

Every now and again I’ll have an interesting encounter like I did today. I was out and about in my town when two older gentlemen who (I learned) were visiting the area, struck up a conversation with me. The younger of the two was a talker and quite congenial. The other however, who said almost nothing, cut a more striking figure. He looked like somebody sent from Central Casting (is there still such a thing as Central Casting? Was there ever?). He was lean, about 5β€˜9″, straight-postured and carrying a walking stick, with a full white beard, a fluorescent orange cap (one I didn’t immediately realize must be a hunter’s cap – don’t see too many of those in the suburbs where I live outside a big U.S. city), and very bright, alert blue eyes behind glasses. He looked like the wise old guy character actor in a movie who’d be sitting in front of a gas station, whiling away the hours.

We had a friendly chat and as I noted, the younger of the pair, who certainly would qualify for senior discounts, did most of the talking. I tried to look over at the other man too when I spoke so he’d be included. (It always feels odd to me when I’m talking to a person and there’s another person present who has to stand by like a block of wood; I want to at least acknowledge them.)

They continued on their way but awhile later came back by where I was. This time, both men spoke – I guess the older fellow had decided I was all right, or he just takes a little more time to suss things out. And not to be mean but getting a word in with his chatty comrade there wasn’t going to be easy. Just before they walked away the second, final time, the older man approached me and took something out his wallet, saying, “Well, let me give you this…” I was curious, thinking he’d maybe give me a fast-food discount coupon he didn’t have use for or something like that as a gesture of thanks for my taking time to talk with them. I can be a charming conversationalist after all.

Here’s what he handed to me (with personal details hidden):P_20140515_181447
I was quite delighted. As I said, I live outside a big city and people who-take-themselves-very-seriously foist business cards on others rather incessantly. (I handed back the last business card someone tried to give me for their services, services I’d expressed no interest in.) But this one? I’ve never seen one like it. People aren’t like that around here. First thing I did once home was Google the description of the services offered. I really did NOT want to find it; I wanted it to be original. Google coughed nothing up I am very happy to say. My favorite part is the office hours, ha! I didn’t notice right away that the back of the card had printing on it as well:
P_20140515_181625