Conversation with a Stranger
Making the effort to greet strangers and have conversations is consequential and fun, so they say. And "they" seem to be saying it more frequently, at least in the media environments I frequent. When out in the morning walking with the dogs, I'm aware and interested in talking to others. It's good for the people but also good for the dogs, as it sets up a feeling of safety for them and they can socialize appropriately. That's all fun, but not very consequential.
This morning at Great Clips, my hair salon of choice, I chose to enter into conversation more deeply. This is not generally my first choice in the midst of young hair stylists who must be explicitly trained to draw out conversation from their clientele. My aversion to these chats dates back -- at least -- to 2002. I was a mere 50 years old and having a bad week. I had lost a rear molar that had been rather expensively repaired a year or two previously. I had received my first solicitation from the AARP -- an event that I received with considerable disgust. And then, as I sat in the barber chair, the chatty young stylist began the conversation with, "So .... Do you still work?"
I wanted to scream, "Parts of me still work! Did you see a walker parked at the door?" I was probably more polite, but 20 years later she still has not been forgiven.
Today, influenced by the frequent admonitions to engage in conversation with strangers, I remained open, and actually participated in full.
We got to the starter question as she asked "So do you have anything special planned for today?"
As I was not yet engaged, I responded, "Just the usual."
That was not a satisfactory answer, and she pressed on. Faced with the decision to clam up, or follow the advice that I really should talk with strangers, I let her know that I'd head back to my shop and get to work on the player piano I'm restoring.
With her response, I felt a bit of deja vu, and some consternation, since it wasn't clear that she had actually listened to me. But at that point I was fairly well committed to the philosophy of chance conversation.
She: "So do you still work, or are you retired?"
Me: "That's a difficult question. A bit of both I guess. When I finish the project I'm working on, I'll be paid for it. Does that make me working, or retired? You tell me."
She: "I guess you're retired."
Me: (ignoring her incorrect answer and committing to a conversation) "So what do you like to do when you're not cutting hair? "
Pat myself on the back. I'm really engaged in conversation now, and things could go in any direction, and they surely did. She tells me how she likes to bake cookies with her grandmother, and how she likes to make things with her grandpa in his man cave. I compliment her on being an artist and a crafts person, particularly as it furthers her relationship with her grandparents. She learns that I was married in 1974 and I learn that her grandparents first met in 1974. It's not difficult to do the math here. Clearly she is young enough to be my grand-daughter.
She tells me that she takes particular care of Grandma since she had a stroke in the past year. I ask about Grandma's condition and if she can walk. As I learn more, I realize that this is in fact a consequential conversation. As she assures me that Grandma is recovering well, my mind drifts to 1963 and my own grandmother's catastrophic stroke. Oops. I'm more than a little disturbed when tears start to form in the corner of my eyes.
Bear in mind, McGuires have weak tear ducts. But really, was this the right setting for that condition to surface? Indeed it was a consequential conversation, at least for me. And I think it was a pleasant distraction for her. Particularly, because I found new topics to pursue and didn't actually wind up with tears streaming down my face onto the barber's drape.
Of course maybe I should have allowed it to happen and the conversation would have been mutually consequential.