500 people: Week Two

We started the week with an overnight trip to Canberra to see the Know My Name exhibition at the National Art Gallery (apologies to Canberra friends we didn’t contact). The exhibition is fabulous, from the Djampi Weavers to Linda Lee. And the trip provided lots of opportunities to add to my meeting-people challenge. See last week’s post for the brief description of the challenge. This week’s exchanges range from tiny to trivial, but in most of them I made a decision to initiate contact, and it seemed mostly to be welcomed. Which is the point of the challenge.

  1. Sunday morning, 21 February. At a petrol station near Mittagong, as I went to pay, I passed a woman wiping her hands on paper towel with exaggerated gestures. She said, to the world in general, ‘It’s slimy.’ I stopped to ask, ‘What is?’ ‘The hand sanitiser,’ she said. ‘ I thought it would be slimy, and it was.’ She said this through teeth clenched around a credit card, which she was evidently protecting from the slime. I made a sympathetic noise and went on my unsanitised way.
  2. Sunday afternoon, in Canberra. As we approached what turned out to be Reconciliation Place, we passed a 50-something white man who had just been looking at a piece of carved stone. He greeted us with a smile and nod that felt a little like the solemn acknowledgements people make at the start of funerals. We reciprocated, then read the inscription on the stone and understood his demeanour. In case the image isn’t legible, it says: If we want to break away from the colonial past, and begin anew, then we have to walk together – hand in hand and side by side – as a truly reconciled nation. Gatjil Djerrkura OAM, 2004
  • Sunday evening, the Jonathan-is-an-idiot moment, which I hope won’t be a regular feature. I ordered pappardelle with beef ragú. When the waiter asked how the meal was, I said, truthfully, that it was excellent, but I thought pappardelle were butterfly shaped pasta. She looked astonished, and told me I was wrong. I checked on my phone, and discovered that butterfly pasta is farfalle, and pappardelle, named from pappare, to gobble, are exactly the broad ribbons I had just enjoyed. When I paid, I told the waiter my phone had discovered that she was right.
  • Sunday. In Canberra you can have more than one person in a lift. We shared a ride with a young man in a grey T-shirt that said, in neat black lettering, ‘THIS IS NOT A PHASE‘. He was observing rigorous modesty of the eyes – or willing us out of existence, take your pick. When we stopped at his floor, I said, ‘Nice T-shirt.’ He flashed a big smile and said, ‘Thanks.’ I didn’t get to ask him what THIS was.
  • Tuesday morning. When I arrived at the physiotherapist a woman was taking up a lot of space in the waiting room, fussily and vocally searching for her mask (still required in the treatment rooms). She was the kind of perfectly nice person I tend to avoid. When I came out from my treatment, she was still there, sitting quietly. I realised I didn’t have my backpack, and made a little fuss of my own. She said, quite calmly, ‘You’ve probably left it in your car, love.’ I agreed and thanked her. She was right.
  • Wednesday morning, 6.30. In the change room at the pool, there were just two of us, me dressing after a swim, and a young man undressing before one, mostly with our backs discreetly to each other. As we headed off in our different directions, I remarked that it was good to have proper hot water at last (the pool management have used the Covid lockdown to fix the plumbing). The young man looked as if he had no idea what I was taking about, but gave a friendly smile and said something about it being a good way to wake up.
  • Thursday afternoon at the Australian Museum, a young woman gave a tiny presentation about volcanoes to a group of preschool-age children, which culminated in an eruption generated by a mixture of vinegar and sodium bicarb. I couldn’t resist telling her about my own volcano demo from years ago, in which I demonstrated what happens when phosphorus is exposed to air. As the classroom filled with clouds of white smoke, I said, ‘You know, I think this gas is poisonous,’ and you’ve never seen a room empty faster than that one. The young woman was more shocked than amused. ‘Were you a science teacher?’ she asked. ‘I was that day,’ I said. I don’t think it was the beginning of a friendship.
  • Thursday a little later, as my companions were in the ladies, I was sharing a small vestibule with a woman with a baby on her front, two small children playing with balls, and a brightly coloured cart filled with childhood paraphernalia and crowned by a large umbrella. In the interests of talking to strangers I asked about the cart. She explained that it was invented by a Brisbane woman, and made life so much easier on an outing, able to carry two children and a baby plus food, change of clothes, toys, picnic gear, and more. It was easy to pull along, as the boy, aged about four, was happy to demonstrate. The only problem was that it didn’t fold. Nonetheless, she takes it on the train. I looked for the contraption online later, with no success.
  • Friday morning, breakfast in a nearby cafe. My companions each order smashed avo. I ask for an almond croissant. The waitress says to me, ‘Good choice.’ One of my companions says, ‘What, so ours wasn’t a good choice?’ She doesn’t miss a beat: ‘The avo is always excellent, but if you’re going to depart from the written menu, the almond croissant is wise.’ I say, ‘You should be a diplomat,’ then I worry that she may have felt a bit harassed as she says, very softly, ‘Just doing my job.’
  • Friday afternoon, in Kinokuniya to buy a birthday gift. I know which comic book I want but can’t find it. I stop a masked man and tell him that while I can see the huge omnibus of the title I’m after I can’t see the individual books. He is delighted to show me the way. I’m not sure if this one counts, because I’m fairly sure that beneath the mask was the face of the man who had originally recommended the series to me back in December.

That’s encounters 11 to 20 – I couldn’t figure out how to number this lot and also include the image for encounter Nº 2.

7 responses to “500 people: Week Two

  1. I don’t “resile” from my earlier comment! Great tales, J.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kathyprokhovnik

    Made me laugh. Must be good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. homageisnotafrenchword

    Some wonderful encounters, John. I’m of a like mind regarding casual encounters with strangers, with the result that I have 3219 intimate friends (I’ve lived too long on this planet. I can barely remember Skyros, or even why The Council sent me here.) But does asking directions of shop assistants (sorry, team members) really count? When told of your project Sandy ever so slightly shivered in what I take to be distaste. Sandy doesn’t do friendly.. Her life’s complicated enough. I completely understand, so I do friendly for both of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Asking directions of shop assistants / team members only counts if you’re desperate, and the challenge is only a challenge for people who are chronically antisocial.I like to think I’m neither, but, well … let’s just say I might be more of a Sandy than a Stephen


  4. I’m now very worried that I might be “the kind of perfectly nice person I [you] tend to avoid”. Of course that means I have tickets on myself as looking like a “perfectly nice person” which makes me even more avoidable, but still …

    Oh, and I really enjoyed the Know my name exhibition, and look forward to the next one. I feel I should get back into reporting on things like that, but my brain is still mush. (But to be snooty, it’s the NGA not the NAG here in Canberra.)


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