I have a long history of awkward social encounters. If there’s a wrong thing to be said, or a faulty assumption to be made. I will make it.
Now, I fully own my part in this. I’m not really a “people” person. I have friends who feel “strangers are just friends you haven’t met.” You see, I think “strangers are most likely psychos who are after my stuff.”
But I can’t live my life like that. Not all the time, though believe me I’ve tried. So occasionally I give in to that chatty lonely businessman on a plane, or give a terse – “what’s up?” nod to the woman in a Starbucks line and it usually ends in disaster.
For instance, two months ago I was in one of those – warehouse, self-serve, yes… the shoes are plastic, but they’re cheap – stores. I was walking down an aisle and came across this dude trying on Tevia sandals over his black socks.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, I would power right by this poor fashion-challenged bastard, but on this day… I had a moment of weakness. For once, I felt something for my fellow man. Yes, he was a stranger, but maybe he could one day, be my friend. And if your friend were about to make such a horrible purchase, wouldn’t you say something?
So, I stopped. Looked down at the sandals, shook my head and said: “No.” He was unsure how to respond, so I continued: “Just don’t.”
Surprisingly, he completely misunderstood my pure intentions. I told him I was simply looking out for his best interests. From my perspective if I were trying to be mean I would have said something about the “mommy jeans” denim cargo shorts he was wearing.
But for some reason, he didn’t see it my way. Words were exchanged which quickly grew to loud expletives, followed by management suggesting that perhaps I would be more comfortable shopping for affordable footwear in another state.
So, I learned my lesson right? Avoid people at all cost! Well, that’s the problem with people; they are everywhere! And some of them will just keep coming at you. No matter how you try to avoid them or how well you defend yourself. Slowly and methodically, they just keep coming at you. Which I am pretty sure is how they got the idea for zombies.
Which brings me to last week in New York. Thursday night, I’m walking around Columbus Circle looking for a place to grab a drink, a burger and watch the World Series. As I’m crossing the street a well-dressed woman in her seventies calls out to me:
“You certainly look like a nice young man.”
I thank her, but keep walking. I mean, who is this crazy old woman, why is she bothering me and I’m pretty sure she is after my stuff.
“Do you live around here?”
Ah, she wants directions; this is an easy social encounter to get out of. Sorry, I’m from out of town.
“Oh, I live right around the corner.”
Ok, it’s not directions, then what’s her game? I get it! The old broad wants me to carry something insanely heavy up to her ninth floor walk up. Great, also easy to get out of. As I reached into my wallet to literally play the cancer card she lays it on me.
“Would you like to come up to my place and play around?”
This stops me in my tracks. I really look at her for the first time. She’s 75 at least! White hair, nice long black coat, old lady heels, wearing a silk scarf she probably bought at Nordstrom’s. I misheard her, right? That has to be it! But she asks me again, slower this time, leaning in with a little smile. Now certain of her intentions, I said the only thing I could say…
“Well, um, no Ma’am.”
And then for the first time in five months, two surgeries, ten doses of chemo and 30 radiation treatments… I ran. Head thrown back, arms flailing side to side… I ran away. From a 75 year old woman. Not exactly Don at his most manly.
So now, my faith in humanity shattered, I am resolved more than ever to avoid all contact with people in general. If I come across my fellow man buying embarrassing footwear, I will walk away. When I stroll the city streets I will shun the elderly. Judge me if you will, but I think this is just better for the planet as a whole.
And I think this proves once and for all that “strangers are not simply friends you haven’t met“ but they are actually “aging hookers that want to lure you up to their parlors to drink cooking sherry until you pass out so they can steal your cancer card.”