Encounters with Strangers Posted by Oaktown Girl, 17 May 2007 07:34 pm
[Dateline: February 8, 2007, 6:45pm.
Situation: It’s just after work; I’m moderately stressed because I just started a new job and have to learn a thousand new things. Plus, I’m trying to adjust to working days after a year on the graveyard shift, which is proving to be a surprisingly difficult transition both physically and mentally.
Scene: A small Mexican restaurant, primarily take-out, with just a few tables. The only other customers are a man sitting at one of the tables eating his food, and one woman standing who’s just finished placing her order at the counter. She’s White and appears to be in her early 30’s.]
I place my food order with the young woman behind the counter and give her my money. She gives me my change, plus the little receipt with the all-important order number on it. Really just a formality of course, because there are only three customers in the place, and one is already eating. But the receipt pops up out of the cash register, and by golly, somebody’s got to hold on to it.
Now I need to find a place to put my body in this rather small space while I wait for my food. I’m getting it to go, and I don’t want to occupy one of the few tables while I wait even though I wouldn’t be putting anybody out at the moment. (I’m very conscientious that way). But before I can even turn away from the counter to look for a place to be, I overhear the two other customer behind me engaged in conversation. They are talking about candy.
Candy? Why the hell are they talking about candy? And rather passionately at that?
When I turn around I half expect to see one of them eating candy. How else would the subject have come up? But no, neither of them is eating any candy. And the man at the table isn’t even eating a dessert because this place doesn’t have dessert. He is just sitting there eating his regular ol’ Mexican food. Bizarre.
I find a wooden stool to sit on and tune them out. But suddenly the conversation turns to sour candy. Sour candy? Really? Now they have my attention. I love sour candy. In fact, I don’t think the candy has been invented that is too sour for me. I can eat lemons the way most people eat oranges. I used to really freak out my septuagenarian Japanese-American former land lady when I would eat lemons in her presence. I can still hear her. She’d say the exact same thing every time:
Ooooohhh, noooooo! Why you do that? I don’t understand how you do that!
Sour candy, indeed. Now this is a conversation I can participate in. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say “sink my teeth into”?). I contemplate jumping in; afterall, I am a master in this field. I’d be doing them a favor. But, no. I’m too tired to care enough. I make a conscious decision to keep my mouth shut. Rather a shame to keep my level of sour candy expertise hidden under a bushel, but I’m just plain worn out.
After a moment, it becomes apparent that the conversation was something the woman initiated and the man was merely being polite. This woman is very chatty, very peppy, and most damningly, very perky. A lot of people find that to be an irritating quality, especially in a stranger, but I don’t mind. In fact, I sometimes like chatty people. The more someone else is talking, the less I have to, which is cool by me. I’m not much for talking unless the topic is something I’m really interested in.
The conversation winds down, and the man goes back to eating in peace. I notice he’s keeping his eyes straight down on his plate with a vengeance. He’s had his fill of polite conversation, and does not want do anything that will risk inviting any more. Watching this unfold kind of makes me laugh inside, but I try not to smile outwardly. I’ve found this stool to sit on while I wait, and I’m in veg mode. Zoning out straight ahead into space puts my line of sight directly between the man and the young woman. Perfect: someplace to look without looking at anyone.
The woman is easily in my peripheral vision. I can see she’s looking right at me. I keep staring off into space, pretending not to notice. She’s relentless, won’t stop staring at me. Her conversation with the man has ended with no chance of revival, and she’s got a bull’s eye on the one who’s got “next” - me. I make a point to avoid eye contact at all cost because I know the minute I do, that opens the floodgates. Usually, I wouldn’t mind chatting with a stranger. Usually, I’d be happy to let this person start a conversation if they wanted to. What do I care? My food will be ready in a minute or two, and then I’m gone. But not tonight. Tonight, I’m just too tired, too maxed-out. I just don’t have anything left to give right now, not even passive listening.
But the woman doesn’t care. She is single-minded in her mission, and her eyes never leave me for a second. And now she’s upping the ante for my attention by using exaggerated motions to repeatedly run her fingers through the back of her hair, which is reddish-blonde and reaches just to the base of her neck. My god. This woman wants to talk to someone so badly. The drama continues until I break. My compassion overcomes my fatigue, and I decide to throw this poor woman a bone and allow eye contact. I turn my head a tiny fraction to the left and let my eyes meet hers. Still running her fingers through her hair, she pounces instantly.
“I’m just not used to my hair being so short”, she tells me.
What? She wants to talk about hair? Hair? Well you just hit the jackpot sweetie, because I have a thing or two to say on that subject right about now!
Now it was my turn to pounce. “Well”, I begin in a voice clearly indicating my less than cheery mood, “at least your hair is short by choice. My hair’s this short because of a salon disaster about a month and a half ago. My stylist decided she wanted to ‘try something new with my hair’”.
“Fried it?” asked the woman.
“Destroyed it”, I continued, my voice conveying the increasing level of anger and disgust welling up within me as I recounted my plight. “It was falling out in clumps. I couldn’t even comb it because every time I did, more would fall out. I got to spend my birthday a few days later back at the salon trying to do damage control. It didn’t work, so I just had to have it all cut off. And what little I do have is strategically styled to cover up two little bald spots where hair used to be.”
“Well”, she said with a smile, “I think it looks cute anyway”.
Amazing but true! The little bit of hair I did have was having a “good” day, actually. First time since it was all chopped off.
“Well, thanks”, I said, mustering a tiny smile for her benefit.
Then, with her same peppy, perky tone and smiling face she said, “My hair’s so short because I got cancer and it’s just now starting to grow back”.
Got an “Encounter with Strangers” you’d like to share? Go to the Submit a Post link at the top of the page and tell your story to the Minister of Justice.
Responses to “Encounters with Strangers (#1): Sour Candy”