No one has told me to stop, so here’s another week of the talking-to-strangers challenge. See this post for the brief description of the challenge. Here are some startlingly relevant lines from the title poem of Speak to Strangers (1960) by R D Murphy, the first poet I met in the flesh:
---------------------------- My grandfather's name was Adam. we may discover a thing or two In common, tastes the same. This is your place? I'd not pick your purse or kinsey at the keyhole, But merely borrow a match to see your face.
And here are the matches I lit this week:
- Sunday 7 March, midday. We walked to Addison Road Markets for dumplings. When we ordered the special, the Emerging Artist said she didn’t want the pork bun or the dim sim. The woman serving us had trouble with the English, and the owner stopped cooking to translate. Though we’ve been going there on Sundays for years now, I don’t remember a previous conversation with him. He told us that his dumplings weren’t the North Chinese, but the Hong King kind, made entirely with rice and so gluten free. I asked how the excellent dumplings of Xian fitted his schema. He pointed to a laminated page in the counter offering Xian noodles, but said the weather there was terrible – too much wind and dust. We swapped travellers tales for a minute or so. It turned out he hails from a small village in northern China, and has been in Australia for 18 years. Gesturing to the deep blue early-autumn Sydney sky, he said he didn’t want to go back.
- Sunday evening, at a poetry reading. After the first guest poet had read, I approached her with awkward fan-boy effusions, which doesn’t count for this challenge as we already know each other. She introduced me to the other advertised poet and we exchanged a couple of words. I was too embarrassed to be fanboyish all over again, partly because I have only read a handful of his poems (none of the ones he was about to read, it turned out), but mainly because fanboy-times-one is embarrassing enough. Still, contact was made.
- Also Sunday evening, during the same break, I went to the closest physically-distanced table and spoke to the man whose female partner, the first open-mic reader, had mentioned that it was his 65th birthday. I asked if he was also a poet. He isn’t. He’s a photographer. He talked about being sidekick to a poet, mentioned one of her greatest hits. I chatted about my own experience as sidekick to the Emerging Artist. We may well run into each other at future poetry readings.
- Wednesday. I got on a bus whose driver was maskless, the first time this has happened for a very long time. I was about to say something when he beat me to the conversational initiative. ‘That’s clever,’ he said. ‘I like it.’ It took me a second to realise he meant my T-shirt (photo below, though not of me wearing it). ‘Me too,’ I said. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ I love it that this happened so soon after I’d said on this blog that men don’t comment on each other’s clothes. Evidently it’s allowed if there’s wit involved.
- –7.Wednesday evening, We had a small dinner to celebrate a birthday ending in zero for the Emerging Artist, and also a less prominent birthday of mine. One of the guests brought a handful of frangipanis to decorate the table, and I stuck one behind an ear. When I went to pay the bill, the cluster of wait-staff were unusually cheerful, as in someone had just said something funny. If they had, it may have been a remark on my flower, or perhaps on my clumsy attempts to speak Italian earlier. Anyhow, the flower was an excellent conversation starter: the main waiter has a frangipani tree that isn’t in flower yet, also true of the one in our yard; we live in adjoining suburbs, not far from the friend whose tree had produced my ornament; the woman who had waited at our table said she liked my flower; at least one other joined in.
8. Thursday morning, we went to our regular GymKidz class. The Emerging Artist has made good connections there, and three-year-old Ruby is at intense hugging stage with another girl. I generally hover in the background trying to look benign. I took a tiny initiative today beyond my unusual smiling and nodding at both children and parents. I’d noticed a young couple with a tiny, energetic boy during the unstructured playtime that precedes our class. It turned out I was sitting near their stroller. He came careening towards the stroller, saying’Ba!’ His mother produced a banana. I said something about his ability to say words. She said, almost apologetically, that he only said one syllable – ‘ba’ for banana, ‘ma’ for mother. I said, ‘Give him a couple of weeks.’ When they left a little later we all said a proper goodbye, including waves from the toddler.
9. Thursday evening. Continuing the birthday, the EA and I ate out at a favourite pizza place. During dinner we noticed the main waiter teaching someone else how to hold more than one plate safely on one arm, and momentarily demonstrating how to hold three or four. This probably shouldn’t count because I’ve had a ‘Hello, it’s good to see you,’ relationship with that waiter for some years, but I presumed to build on that and asked him as we were leaving how many plates he could hold. ‘A lot!’ he said, and gave me a short demonstration of technique. ‘It’s an art,’ I said. ‘Every profession has its arts,’ he said as he waved us off into the night.
10. Friday afternoon. Continuing the birthday celebrations, we are renting a house in Gerroa. As we unpacked our car, a young man was doing the same at the top of a steep drive opposite. We waved to each other. A little later, as we were heading out for a walk, he came running down the drive, chasing a ball one of his small children had let loose. I said, ‘Is that their way of getting exercise?’ ‘Yep,’ he said, ‘make Daddy chase your ball.’ [On Saturday morning, the three children were playing with smaller balls up and down the drive, but had enough discipline not to chase them out into the street.]
Running total = 41.
I’m enjoying the “500” immensely Jonathan. Don’t stop!!
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I’m enjoying them too now I’ve found them … and, it seems like we might be Pisceans together as my birthday was this week. Mr Gums is Aquarian.
I would say a goodly number of my stranger connections would be with waiters/servers.
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I do feel very anxious about you putting yourself under pressure to interact with 500 people by the end of the year. I love to have random encounters but if I was counting I think it would put me off.
I see what you mean. Gert, but so far it’s fun, and if it starts to feel like the quota is too demanding, I can always lower the bar for what counts as an encounter.
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That’s what I like, flexibility! If you don’t like the rules, change them I say!
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