Why do dogs who meet on the street for the first time in their lives get along so much better than two strangers standing in line at the grocery store? Should I be sniffing their butts instead of saying something innocuous like, “Boy, you really know how to pick out some rockin’ honeydew melons! And where did you find the monster-size super hefty turbo TAMPONS? I was looking all over for those. Do you have the coupon? I have an extra coupon for the TAMPONS if you want it. Do you want the TAMPON coupon? Hey, that rhymes – HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!”
Sacramento isn’t “something” enough to be a hip destination, but is big enough so that neighbors don’t usually hang out together and strangers don’t talk to each other, let alone smile, let alone make eye contact in public.
There is no sense of community, so if you talk to Joe Stranger, you are the enemy or have recently escaped from an asylum and are not to be spoken to. Because only weirdos talk to strangers. Actually, I’m guilty of it as well. If anybody talks to me, I figure they must be out of their minds.
It’s a shame, really. And it only exacerbates my anxiety when I have to introduce myself at social events.
But sometimes, I give humanity a chance.
So a couple of days ago, as I was loading groceries into the back of my car, a man standing at the passenger side of the car next to mine says to me: “Harry Potter? I read all five books…”.
I was wearing my “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” baseball hat, so I smiled. Then he finished his sentence:
Oh yes he did. How awesome is that? My kinda guy, I thought to myself, because I was going to embrace this opportunity to give humanity a chance. He’s funny and friendly. What could possibly go wrong with this conversation?
I respond to him in my outside voice:
My Outside Voice: In jail? OK, you just prompted me to ask a bunch of questions there.
Strange Man: Well, I’m a veteran, so…
My Inside Voice: What does that even mean? A veteran? I thought he was going to explain that he was a prison guard. I’m still expecting him to say he was a prison guard. And how awesome is this conversation? His opener was fantastic and I want to hear more. I’ve always wanted to say, “So what were you in for?” Hey, I might even get a blog post out of this. See? This is why people should talk to one another more often. We all have wonderful stories to share and have so much to learn from each other. Besides, what else is there to do while we’re here, sharing this planet? Why can’t we all just get along, be nice to one another, engage each other?
My Outside Voice: Well, I’m no Harry Potter connoisseur, but wasn’t there more like seven books?
Strange Man: This was before.
My Outside Voice: Oh, before they had all come out?
Strange Man: [nodding] Mm-hmm.
My Outside Voice: So, how were you in jail?
My Inside Voice: Doh! What were you in for? What were you in for? Should I reword my question out loud? Or have I just blown the whole timing and delivery opportunity? Crap.
Strange Man: Because this is a police state. [And he laughs. Not maniacally or anything. More like he's accepted the fact that this is a police state and isn't life just funny that way?]
My Outside Voice: California is a police state?
Strange Man: [nods again]: It’s a communist fascist state.
My Inside Voice: OK, I believe we’re done here. Let’s make walking away motions, pushing our empty cart back towards the store. Say good-bye to this little slice of humanity.
My Outside Voice: OK, I think I get it now.
My Inside Voice: Freak. FREAK! Oh, why do I even bother?
The strange man smiles and climbs into the passenger seat of the car, where I see the woman driver has been waiting for him to get in. She doesn’t even look at me knowingly, as if to apologize for his social outcastiness, so no human connection there either. Maybe they belong to the same wacko conspiracy club.
There’s never a small town around when you need it. Stars Hollow, take me away!