People Are Strange; When You’re a Stranger

Featured Image: A girl I befriended at a NJ bar that wanted to make sure I didn’t leave while she was in the bathroom.

Title from People Are Strange by The Doors

I love talking to strangers. I know most people don’t; some people think it’s unsafe, some people think it’s awkward, and some people just don’t like people.

I always say that I make the decisions I make and talk to the people I talk to “for the plot” or “for my writing.” It makes life interesting when you go outside your comfort zone, even when it doesn’t turn out in your favor. Plus, all the more fodder for my writing.

And not all conversations are great, obviously, when you talk to strangers. But damn, is it still an experience. An experience I didn’t realize how sorely I missed until after I got my vaccine.

My favorite place to socialize with strangers is a dive bar in my hometown. At this point, it’s my “safe space” — all the bartenders know me, and everyone there (usually men my father’s age) is glad to have a fresh (young, female) face. I get financial advice, career advice, relationship advice. I hear about fantasy football leagues; I learn about various trades and jobs; I get tea about divorces and the children who won’t speak to them.

On my birthday, a man who admitted he’s old enough to be my father showed me a video of him coming home from the hospital and his dog being so excited to see him. He started crying. That dog had passed away, and the woman taking the video was his ex. 

On my first writing retreat, I met a woman named Joy. Her father had passed, and she was there to spread his ashes in the river. She told me stories of her adventures, showed me her writing, and made breakfast for everyone. I saw her cry, too. 

A few months ago, at a dive bar, an older woman started talking to me when the man I was with had gone to the bathroom. She told me how her children wouldn’t speak to her, and how they refused to do family therapy, and how she was to have another surgery on her spine. She gave me a cigarette. 

A few years ago, at yet another dive bar, a man told me about how he was frustrated that his son’s wife got mad at him for not washing his hands before holding her newborn baby. I didn’t agree with him, but I listened to him. I imagined how sad it would be not to be able to see your grandchild just because you’re too stubborn to use some hand sanitizer. 

In New Jersey, I was on the lookout for a wing-woman and met a girl whose name I can’t recall. We ran around together getting drinks from boys and running away from them. When we bumped into her ex, I listened to her complain about him in the bathroom, then cheered her on when she poured a drink on him. We danced to Good 4 U after.

At the dentist, my hygenist told me about her pending divorce. He had cheated on her. She had been dating other people and told me about her most recent date with a guy who lived in some grandmother’s basement. We talked about how men never change. I told her how my ex is abusing his new girlfriend in the same way he abused me. She told me she knows her ex-husband will never change because he cheated on his new girlfriend… with her.

I’ve had a man try to convince me to drive down to Florida on the back of their motorcycle. I’ve had a man try to convince me to marry them so I wouldn’t have to work after I complained about dating issues and not liking my job. I’ve had a man try to convince me to run for Congress, but as a liberal republican. 

Also on my birthday, I accidentally walked in on someone using a bathroom stall. I apologized profusely, and she said it was okay because “we’ll never see each other again.” She’s right, we won’t, and that is the beauty of talking to strangers. You can almost say anything to them, and they’ll say anything to you, because what does it matter?

Bonus Content: 

As I’m finishing editing this in the airport, the young man next to me asked me to save his seat while he used the bathroom. Do I just have an approachable face?

As a note: you can come to me about anything.

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