… and I think it says something like: “No luck talking with other people? Come talk to this guy.”
I was eating lunch in Midland Park, a place very far away from work, with my takeaway meal like I used to do on so many occasions before I moved to my current job, and about 2 bites into my chicken burrito, one of Wellington’s ‘personalities’ (a term I’ve heard used as a catch-all to describe either homeless people or the outcasts of society you see wandering the city’s streets every day) started walking through the park. He started talking to one of the other office workers sitting there with his lunch, but the office worker wasn’t giving him the time of day, so he moved on.
I saw his eyes scan the crowd, everybody else making the effort to avoid eye contact lest he start talking to them, and then his eyes settled in my direction.
“What’s that you’re eating?” he shouted from the path to where I sat.
I didn’t immediately do anything; it took me a while to register he was talking to me. When it did, I did what I always seem to do in these situations.
“A chicken burrito.” I said, unhinging my jaw from said burrito.
“A what?” he asked again, as he walked closer to hear me better.
“A chicken burrito.”
He then sat down next to me in the gap between myself and the next guy over, not too close so that I would feel weird about it, but it must have felt weird for the other guy because he shuffled to position himself even further away.
“What’s in it?” he asked, and I started talking about all the things I remember being put into it just 5 minutes before.
“Is it expensive?”
“Yeah, about $10.” I said.
“Yikes, that’s a lot! Any chance you can buy me one?”
I smiled as I shook my head. “No, sorry man.”
There was a big pause in our conversation then, long enough for me to think, This keeps happening to me.
It doesn’t feel like I’ve had a lot of strangers approach and talk to me out of the blue, but when I recount these stories to my friends or family, it suddenly becomes obvious that far more random people come up to talk to me on the streets, or any public place, than to them.
They don’t have stories of teenage boys starting conversations with me as I walk home, telling me that things aren’t going like they envisioned in their new high school; they don’t have stories of San Francisco’s homeless walking alongside me, or sitting beside me as they stop to catch their breath (“these hills!”), as they tell me of the drug addiction that landed them homeless; they don’t have stories of lovely old ladies condensing their family history into the time it takes for me to eat a Big Mac and then dishing out life advice (don’t you worry Chrissie, I’m still not smoking, nor am I seeing any smokers :)
A few days later I’d tell my friend Melissa about this latest encounter, saying it felt like I’ve had almost all of Wellington’s randoms come talk to me at some point or another.
“Sometimes it feels like there’s a sign on my face that I can’t see,” I’d say to her, “‘Come talk to me!’ or something like that.”
“It’s because you’re approachable, Em.” she’d reply.
I tried looking for that sign when I got my hair cut today, staring into the large wall mirror and back at my face as the barber chopped away the last 2 months of growth from my head, but I couldn’t see anything that would mark me as any more approachable than the next person. All I could see were the bags under my eyes telling me that I needed more sleep, and that my left side-burns were a tad uneven.
“… Any chance you can buy me one?”
I smiled as I shook my head. “No, sorry man.”
After the lull in our conversation, he took it in a different direction, saying his mum was out getting, what I thought I heard as, grapes.
“Grapes?” I said, a bit confused.
He then took an old phone out of his pocket, one of those indestructible Nokias, and showed me a text message.
“Oh, ‘drapes’.” I read.
“Yeah, what are drapes?”
And so there I was, spending a part of my lunch time trying to explain drapes to a random from our city’s streets.
“Hey, would you like a drink instead?” I asked, suddenly remembering something. “The place I got this from was giving out free drinks with every burrito, so I got this Pepsi, but I didn’t really want one since I brought a drink already.”
He said yes to the Pepsi, and was rather grateful about it too. ‘One man’s trash’ and all that, I guess.
He took his drink and walked away after that. I ate the rest of my burrito, thinking about what kind of lot in life I’d been dealt, and wondering what other invisible signs might be on my face for the rest of the world to see.