Continuing with the challenge to talk to 500 new people this year. See this post for the brief description of the challenge. As I think I’ve already said, this is partly making notes of the kind of casual encounters that happen almost unnoticed in the normal run of things, and partly recording moments when I step out of my habitual civic disregard (a sociological term I learned from a clever niece).
- Saturday 13 March. In a shop in Gerrigong (a small coastal town south of Sydney), the young man behind the counter had already activated the eftpos device by the time I extracted a couple of notes from my wallet to pay in cash. I said something about being old-fashioned. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Since Covid arrived people have been using cash much more. We used to get a lot of complaints that we didn’t accept cards for less than $10. Now the same people insist on paying cash no matter how big the bill.’ His hypothesis is that because Covid meant that most holiday rental properties were idle, many owners took the opportunity to have work done, which meant that tradies in the area had a lot more cash than usual.
- Monday. My computer was showing signs of imminent explosion, so the Emerging Artist and I went shopping. Covid is still around, so I was interviewed outside the shop before I could go in and do the actual buying. My interviewer was a charming 20-year-old from Western Sydney. While we were waiting for a necessary SMS, we had a great conversation: her career ambitions (the EA gave her career advice, which was cheerfully noted and probably filed under ‘To Be Ignored’), and some highlights of belonging to an immigrant community (I particularly loved the way she gestured to her face as a way of saying she encountered racism, and could be seen mentally sifting through possible terms before lighting on ‘person of colour’). We swapped fragments of life stories. All three of us laughed a lot.
- Wednesday morning at the pool. I’m a slow swimmer, used to being overtaken, and I often wait at the end of a lap to give way to slightly faster swimmers. This usually happens with minimal or no verbal or facial communication. Today I was faster than the only other person in my lane. He waited for me to pass him at the end of a lap. I stopped to check that that’s what he was doing, said, ‘G’day,’ and we exchanged friendly smiles as between to ageing, slow males.
- Also Wednesday morning, on the way home from the pool I passed a woman sitting on the grass flanked by two boxer-type dogs, with four slices of bread on a cloth in front of her. She placed a slice of ham on each slice while the dogs watched patiently. I would normally have smiled quietly to myself, but I stopped and commented: ‘What well-behaved dogs!’ She gave the standard reply: ‘Sometimes.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘ they’re both being incredibly restrained.’ ‘They know their turn’s coming,’ she said. [This was a slightly scary encounter. How many tweets have I seen complaining about men feeling entitled to conversation with women just going about their lives alone in a public place? If she’d told me to f*** off, I would have understood … but there were dogs.]
- Still Wednesday morning, at the dentist for major repairs, I introduced myself to the dental assistant, who is relatively new to the practice and completely new to me. Like her predecessor, she hardly spoke during the rest of my time there, but at least we had each acknowledged that the other had a name.
- Friday morning, back at the dentist, there was a different dental assistant. I was a bit preoccupied with having a tooth crowned and didn’t do more than nod on arrival. But after about half an hour of unpleasantness, while we were all waiting for something to set, I seized the moment. ‘You’re W–, is that right?’ (The dentist had called her by her name once in his stream of soft-spoken requests and instructions.) ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m Jonathan.’ ‘Nice to meet you.’ Then she stuck a suction hose in my mouth and we both went back to our non-speaking roles.
- Saturday evening, at the movies, the first time the EA and I have been in a fairly full theatre for a year (and yes, this is deemed safe in Sydney now). A couple of minutes before the lights went down the man in the seat in front of me asked if I minded if he tilted his seat back. Of course not, but I didn’t let it go quite at that. ‘I didn’t know you could do that,’ and I asked how to do it: ‘It’s like travelling first class.’ He laughed, and several people in our row tilted theirs back along with me. It was the Alliance Française French Film Festival, but the polite man had no trace of a French accent.
Running total is now 48.