I began this assignment with anxiety and dread. I work at home, tap-tapping away on my keyboard, and most of my daily interpersonal communications aren’t even with actual, you know, persons. They are with my dog or my succulents (and I include my husband in that mix).
I’m not shy or withdrawn; I’m just not good at breaking the ice, chitchatting, making small talk. I worry about how I’ll come off, that I’ll end up offending with an off-the-cuff comment, so I resort to innocuous queries about someone’s kids or their work (all the while thinking about how lame I sound and how I really don’t care about their kids or their work).
However, More asked me to try to make “meaningful” contact. So whether I was engaging a tattoo-parlor owner about his folk-hipster artwork or approaching old ladies at a bus stop about the changes in our neighborhood, I tried to connect in ways that felt genuine. And that means many of my encounters left me feeling like an idiot. But a week after starting this little experiment, as I sit here tap-tapping once more, I find that I can’t go back to the way things were. I no longer have a set quota of people to talk with during the day, and that’s a relief. But now that I’ve pumped
up that conversation muscle, it just refuses to sag again— and for that I am grateful.
A sampling of Mel's stranger encounters:
A Run-In with a Nun
I spot Sister Old School in an office building on my way to a meeting: a young, Asian-looking Audrey Hepburn from that movie The Nun’s Story.
Me: [doing a version of What Not to Wear’s Clinton Kelly] Sister! Whoa! I’m liking the look! Love the habit!
Sister: [very softly] Yes?
Me: I have to ask, why wear it? I thought the nuns decided it was too restrictive. That it was kind of like wearing a burka. I remember in grade school, the nun had to turn her whole upper body to look left or right. And if she dropped something? Forget it.
Me: [continuing undeterred] I was talking to some sisters once, and they said that sometimes they do miss the habit, that it was kind of a security blanket, that people treated them with more respect when they wore it and they got free bus rides—
Sister: Um . . . I don’t think that’s why we wear it.
I wake up with a bad attitude. I think about going to the zoo but don’t. Instead, I hit the local animal shelter, which is like a zoo but with dogs. I sidle up to two women looking at a bull terrier.
Woman 1: He’s cute! Look at that big head!
Woman 2: Yeah, let’s write him down as a maybe.
Me: You know, dogs with short white hair like that can get sunburned.
Woman 2: Really? Oh. I didn’t know that.
They walk away. And I berate myself for ruining Roscoe’s chances of happiness.
All the World's a Stooge
I’m at Rummage-a-Rama (because where better to talk to 10 strangers than an exhibition hall full of them trying to sell their equally strange wares?)
Me: [to a thirty-something guy who would have been attractive if not for his booth crammed with Three Stooges–themed posters, bobbleheads, board games and other ephemera] One word: Why?
Him: Why not?
Next: Take Your Scariest Leap