See this post for a brief description of my 500 People challenge.
- Sunday 30 May, at a one-year-old’s birthday party, I met a number of new people, but really only had one conversation with someone who was new to me – the baby’s father’s stepmother. (We didn’t discuss what relation that makes her to the baby: I’d just go with grandmother.) She’s been travelling to Europe for work three times a year until last year, and was happy to regale me with tales of her travels, including a particularly lovely three days working at her computer on a train from Chicago to San Francisco – three very productive days with fabulous scenery rolling by outside her window. I asked the potentially annoying question: Did she know a friend of mine, from the same country of origin as her parents? After some memory trawling and adjusting of my pronunciation, she realised that she did know my friend, whom neither of us has seen or some years.
- Tuesday afternoon, I was having a hot drink with a couple of relatives from out of town at the Art Gallery of NSW. As I carried two large slices of layered honey cake to our table, the woman at the next table looked up from her abstemious salad and said something envious. ‘They’re not for me,’ I said, sharing her envy.
- Wednesday, in my second 20-minute session in the sauna, I somehow managed four conversations with new people. When I returned from my between-sessions cold shower, the two men I had left in sombre silence were chatting. The subject was tattoos. When one of them said, ‘I actually regret about half of mine,’ I seized the chance and asked him which ones. He backed off from his original statement ], but gave us both a tour of his calves and lower thighs, where he sported the images of a number of computer games – Pacman, Mario Bros, etc – and (the reason he’d backed off) the names of his three children. He saved the upper part of his body, he said, for more spiritual images. Something from The Everlasting Story scraped into that category.
- Wednesday, a woman joined us, and took control of the situation, swapping names and information about how long we had all been coming. I mentioned that my partner had stopped coming because the sauna was a bit male dominated, and people didn’t observe the Covid three-person limit. As it happened she had come in and made it four, but we didn’t make an issue of it. When another man (more about him soon) poured water on the rocks, she said something like, ‘It doesn’t matter to me, but there’s a sign asking us not to do that.’ A little later when the same man took a swig of water, she said, ‘It makes no difference to me, but I’ve read that if you drink while you’re in the sauna it takes away from the health benefits.’ She didn’t seem to mind that she got grunts in return and when, after a decent pause, the man took another swig, she exchanged a rueful smile with him.
- Wednesday, somehow the conversation turned to health and the water-swigging, stone wetting, grunting man, who had long blond hair and had a godlike surfy beauty about him – someone I was prepared to dislike on sight – volunteered that he’d recently had a brain tumour removed. While the woman, who had facilitated the conversation so elegantly, expressed sympathy, I went for vulgar curiosity: ‘Did you have a general anaesthetic, or did you have to be awake for the surgery.’ He’d had the anaesthetic, but knew it wasn’t always so. In that brief exchange my whole understanding of what was happening with the grunts etc was transformed. Later, I saw him with his clothes on, and something in his demeanour made it clear that he was dealing with the after-effects of the surgery.
- Wednesday, then I was alone with the other man who had been part of the tattoo conversation. He said he wouldn’t be game to bring a book into the sauna. And we had an interesting chat about the problem of too-many-books. He’d recently sold some art books for about a fifth of their worth, because it was easier to just accept the first offer from a bookshop. In the earlier conversation, before we got to tattoos, we had been taking about flexibility, specifically the possibility of putting one’s palms flat on the lower bench while sitting on the upper one. He had said to tattooed man that he could help him get there. I’d chimed in – and maybe it was my entry onto the conversation: ‘You’d never get me that flexible.’ He took it as a challenge: ‘Maybe not. But I could get you closer to it.’
- Saturday in the Inner West (Dulwich Hill, Earlwood, Marrickville, Enmore) I kept noticing other drivers being courteous and generous, often with a friendly smile, which was pretty good given how heavy the traffic was. I’m not counting them, but we had a similarly courteous encounter while walking on the Earlwood side of the Cooks River. As we approached a little sandstone-block chicane (see photo) designed to make the path unpleasant for bike-riders, a 60-something man with earbuds approached from the other direction, jogging at an impressive pace. We stopped to let him through, but he also stopped, and waited until I gave an explicit ‘After you’, then ran between the stones and past me with a friendly smile.
Running total is now 151.