Friday, October 15, 2010

Dear Unusual People

As a kid, I learned you could be with my dad anywhere in the world and an unusual person would approach him with a story or request. My mom thought it was because he had a kind and nonjudgmental face. My dad joked he must look like a sucker. I remember thinking maybe it was because he tended to be calm and quiet, especially in public situations, so people felt comfortable.

I have a similar gift. Put me in a public place, and the most mentally unstable person in the area has something to say. Today, I held work appointments in a public meeting spot. I was fully engaged, on a vacation of the mind. After my appointments, I packed up and left the table - relaxed - and a woman approached me, “I want you to know I noticed you sitting over there. I saw you when you first got here, and I was watching you.”

I smiled, wondering where this was going. This type of intro has segued into a heartwarming compliment before, but it has also transitioned into a crappy, condescending interaction.

“I saw you over there, trying to speak. I want you to know you shouldn’t wear skirts. While you’re over there crossing your legs, uncrossing them . . . no one can hear what you’re saying . . . ”

At first, I thought she meant I flashed her underwear. I had noticed her earlier, sitting at a lower level than me. I had seen her staring at the floor, tangled gray-blond hair hanging in her deeply lined face. I had already wondered . . . what happened to her?

But as she told me off, I could smell the alcohol. She was a little too emphatic for the typical let-me-tell-you-how-it-is-sister moment. She walked away in a huff. I turned to be startled by the broad smiles of a table of old guys. In my current state of things, I found the experience to be jarring. I was a little sweaty and trembly for a few.

OK, here’s what I would like to say to the unusual people who feel the need to approach me . . . as much as I like to be open and empathetic, I’ve taken a couple hits recently. I could really use a time-out. I'm sure I’ll be back to smiling blankly and handing over the occasional dollar in no time. Until then, peace.

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