500 people: Week Ten

Continuing with the challenge to talk to 500 new people this year. See this post for the brief description of the challenge. The encounters in these posts probably break down half-and-half into conversations that would have happened in the normal run of things but that I’m noticing in a slightly different way, and those that I initiate because of the challenge. You can probably tell the difference just by looking.

  1. Sunday 18 April, walking down Alice Street in Newtown, we passed two Mediterranean-looking men staring into one of the tiny front yards. I didn’t hear what they were saying but I realised they were looking curiously at a couple of fruit trees. I stopped and said, ‘That’s a cumquat.’ ‘Ah,’ one of them answered, ‘yes, a cumquat. But what’s that other one?’ ‘It’s a guava.’ ‘Oh, guavas are delicious,’ he said, and I was flooded with fellow-feeling. The Emerging Artist, who was also there, hates the smell of guavas and refuses to taste them. ‘Do you think we could lean over and pick some?’ one of the men asked. ‘No, but they’re too green anyway.’ I told them where we’ll all be able to pick ripe guavas from trees growing in the street just a couple blocks away in the next couple of weeks. As I type this I’m salivating.
  2. Monday afternoon, at the sauna, where the Covid-safe limit of three people is still in force, person number 3 came out of the door just as I arrived. Alas, a hefty chap rose up from a nearby bench. ‘You’ve been waiting?’ I asked. ‘Yep,’ he said, smiling with relief that he didn’t have to fight for his rights. I went instead into the steam room opposite, from where I saw another bulky chap arrive a few seconds later and go into the sauna unchallenged. Never mind, I had the warm glow of having done the right thing.
  3. Tuesday evening, when the lights came up after the curtain calls at The Removalists at the New Theatre, I turned to talk to the person sitting directly behind me. This was mainly for the sake of this challenge, but also because I thought I might be about to clap eyes on someone who had giggled during a truly horrible moment in the play. It turned out it wasn’t the giggler, I could tell by his voice. I asked the young white man (knowing the answer) if the play was set for study at his school (‘Yes’) and if he’d read the script (‘Yes’). I said I liked the casting of someone who isn’t white as Kenny, the man who is beaten up by police. He agreed, and asked if I went to the theatre often. I laughed and said I’d been three times in the last four days. Suitably shocked, he asked if that was usual. I reassured him that I usually go every couple of months.
  4. Thursday morning at GymKidz, I asked a woman with BLAH printed on her T-shirt in rainbow colours if this was her first session – it’s the start of a new term. ‘We’ve been coming for a year,’ she said. I expressed surprise, as her daughter seemed to be about two and a half. It turned out that they started coming when her daughter was just 18 months old, and played in the free play times. Then someone made them a gift of a term’s enrolment, her daughter loved it and they’ve been coming steadily ever since. This conversation happened in three parts, in the interstices of the gym session.
  5. Thursday, a little later, as we were making our way back to our car, we fell in with another couple of mothers and children. I commented to one of the mothers that I liked her small son’s brightly coloured pants. Yes, she said, they came from Gorman’s, and she did her best to make sure he didn’t get caught in the standard dullness of boys’ clothes.
  6. Thursday, early afternoon at Sydney Park, looking for a patch of grass where we could have lunch, we passed what at first glance looked like a fine china tea-set on a blanket. On a closer look, I realised the cups and teapot were plastic – it was a children’s play set. I said something to the woman standing guard over the set. It doesn’t really matter what I said because, though she smiled as if she thought what I’d said was mildly amusing, I now think she didn’t understand a word of it: when an older woman turned up a few seconds later with two small children, they spoke to each other in what may have been Latvian.
  7. Friday evening. No words exchanged, but this was a sweet moment. Walking near the Marrickville Metro Shopping Centre, I heard loud music coming from a parked car, and saw a woman sitting behind the wheel dancing vigorously with a big grin on her face. As I came closer I saw that a young teenage girl was sitting in the front passenger seat, looking cheerfully mortified. I smiled broadly and muttered under my breath, ‘What an embarrassing mother!’ She couldn’t possibly have heard me, but the girl smiled back and waved her arms in shadowy imitation of her mother, who also grinned in my direction.
  8. Saturday, on our morning circuit by the Cooks river, we passed a man with his toddler daughter who was insisting on walking back over a little wooden bridge to hear the sound it made as she walked on it, while the mother stood patiently with the stroller at the other end of the bridge. We stomped a little as we entered the bridge and earned a wide-eyed stare from the little one. As we passed the mother she said, ‘You can see why walks always take forever.’ ‘And it stays that way for years,’ I said.
  9. Later on Saturday morning, coming out of the Metro shopping centre, I saw a man with two small boys. He had lifted one of them up and was speaking sternly, and intimidatingly. into the small one’s face: ‘You have to wait for me. You can’t go out there by yourself.’ Seconds later, the boys were happily leading him towards the little water feature. ‘You can only look,’ he said, still sternly clearly having given up on the intimidation tactic. ‘You can’t get wet.’ I laughed and said, ‘Good luck with that one.’ ‘It’s a never-ending battle,’ he said. [This interaction is no less evanescent than any of the others, but I like to think that a friendly, amused word from another adult can be a huge help when parent-child tensions are brewing.]
  10. Saturday, a few seconds later, I stopped to draw Ruby’s attention to the toy monkey she had first noticed more than a year ago hanging from a high branch. [We were enjoying the rare treat of a weekend visit from Ruby and her father.] As we all strained to see the monkey, another family group coming the other way stopped to see what we were looking at. I explained, ‘We have to look at it every time we come past.’

Running total is now 91.

One response to “500 people: Week Ten

  1. It’s no doubt true, J., that you have always spoken as easily to strangers as you recount here. I have been something of an easy conversationalist as well – maybe starting with conventional remarks on the weather (they love that, too, in Japan: “Hot and humid, isn’t it!” or “Cold, isn’t it!”

    In the city in which I lived for 13, 14 years in Japan (and a couple in another city) I regularly walked the six kms around the central lake. From 2004 till my return back to Australia in mid-2009. Early mornings – it was standard to greet those going the other way – as here in Australia one will. Early in those walks (and not many foreigners in the city – let alone walking) someone threw a question at me I did not at first understand. They persevered and comprehension dawned. Was I walking the circuit only the once each time – or twice?

    Oh, my goodness! Of course – why not walk twice. The next morning I left home early enough to get two circuits in before home to shower and head off to my teaching day. It became a feature – at least once a week to walk the 12 kms double circuit (just over an hour-and-a-half – a fast walker) when I might have been walking a single circuit four or five times anyway!

    The chap – in a party of three or four always walking together – who had first challenged me – happened to be walking my final circuit just before my return. He’d been ill. It didn’t sound good.

    I was back to see friends there several years later and for old times’ sake – and staying across the road from an entry gate into the lake/park – set off on another walk. And who should I meet – my old challenger mate. I turned and walked back with him and a lone partner till we reached his car. The wife of the friends with whom I was staying turned out to be his ophthalmologist. We marvelled at the smallness of the world. This was in a city the size of Newcastle – or maybe slightly larger – in fact Newcastle’s sister-city in any event!

    The Removalists! I was reminiscing via Facebook with an old student of mine the other day (senior level within Finance or Tax in Canberra) about our visit (her Year 12 English class 1987 from Nelson Bay HS) to Sydney to see Jim McNeill’s powerful prison play “The Chocolate Frog”. She was (and remains) – like all “my” students – super bright!!! Her brother (another of “my” students) was for many years in charge of the A/V department at the Sydney Opera House. High achieving family. Now off topic – sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

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