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I have these moods where I become extremely proud. And I like to over analyze everything. I even feel like talking to complete strangers even though I always tell my guests here, “Don’t talk to strangers. They’re strange and you’ll regret it.” But I do it anyway.

For example: A couple of weeks ago, a friend’s kid came to visit and stayed with us. I got all nervous and jittery because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with a teenager in the City. And I’m not what some people might call sociable. When I was unemployed I often just sat around and wouldn’t leave the apartment for a couple a days except to grab food and go for quick, brisk walks around the block. Besides maybe calling up my mom or my girlfriend who was in Germany at the time, I might not speak to someone for at least two or three days. And I’m generally OK with that. But here I was with a kid and doing my damnedest to show him a good time. New York City, after all, is a completely brave new World compared to Bowling Green, Ohio (population: 31,802).

Don’t ask me why, but I get overly protective of people who have never been to NYC. My mother came and I was worried she might get on the subway. The only way I could describe the feeling would be to relate it to being 16 or 17 and not wanting your mom to look under your bed. Just so she wouldn’t find whatever dirty magazines you were hiding even if they were your father’s. You know she knows, but you don’t want to imagine her knowing.

So that’s what I was doing with this kid, my friend’s oldest son. “Listen, don’t talk to strangers. You never know what they want or how they might use you.”

Drinking? Nah, he can't do that...

Drinking? Nah, he can’t do that…

Ho ho. What’s that old adage? “Do as I say, not as I do”? I could be the poster child for that one. Because, right off the bat, we’re sitting in Union Square and there is a Peruvian who has set up shop right next to us. Old paperbacks and VHS tapes laid out before him. A few people come and look but never buy. And I could feel it coming. He was going to say something to me. I was going to be strong and just say, “I’m not interested.” But, instead when the moment came, a confused “What?” escaped my lips.

“You want to get rich? That book, there, that book, it will make you rich. Just a dollar.”

“Oh, yeah? Why aren’t you rich then instead of selling books in the park? Seems like false advertising to me,” I said.

“Me? Rich, no no. I don’t want to be rich. I’ve found Jesus and am getting rid of all possessions. Going to live a simple life.”

“Simple life, eh? The only way to live!” I continued talking to him and I didn’t know why. It’s like when the cops stop you and ask you what kind of gun you have and then you let them know about the moonshine in the fridge and that time you cheated on your 5th grade math test because you were never good at math and were almost 100% certain that you’d never get caught– oh boy, almost only counts in hand shoes and horse grenades, right officers?

“So?”

“So? Oh, right. The book,” I said being drawn back to the conversation. “I don’t want the book. I, too, don’t want to be rich. But, those pants. How much for those?”

I was trying to be funny, but it was a bit much for him. He didn’t know what to say, so I repeated myself. “The pants. They look nice. I’m sure they would fit. How much?”

“Oh, dude, I’m not selling my pants.” He was oddly overly dressed, pressed shirt, tie, and khakis, for someone trying to live the Simple Life.

At this point, I couldn’t stop myself. I get this way around new people. Nervous and outrageous at the same time. “The shirt then?” It was still a no, but we continued haggling anyway until the conversation moved towards how we treated women and aids. When was the last time you were tested? Ideally, you should get tested after every partner. Do drugs? Yeah, then you should definitely get tested.

Eventually, the conversation hit a dull point after about an hour and my joints couldn’t take sitting on the concrete steps anymore and I told the guy I needed to stretch my legs and get some blood flowing. When we were about a block away, I told the kid, “See? Don’t talk to strangers.”

***

And I never learn my lesson. Last week I was in the train when a bunch of “Showtimers” came on as the person next to me put it. He was a young 20-something from the UK. Where exactly, I don’t know. He looked at me and said, “Fuckin’ Showtimers.”

At first I just nodded and went back to looking at my book. Then he followed up with, “Don’t they know I’m trying to get somewhere and could give less than two shits about some fuckin’ dance routine. Why the subway? I don’t want to get kicked in the head. Fuckin’ kick me in the head and it won’t be a nickel they’re gettin’.”

“Well, I guess, they want an audience and to show off their skills and maybe earn a bit extra spending money. Hell, I don’t know.”

“Extra spendin’ money? If they got skills then why don’t they put it to good use. I do that for a living.”

“Put your skills to use?”

“I’m a professional dancer. Ballet. Fuck. Don’t see me fuckin’ up people’s commute just so I can have an iPhone. Just get a damn job and pay for it like the rest of us.”

I wasn’t quite sure what dancing in the subway and iPhones had in common. By this point, I had lost my place in my book and more invested in hearing what this guy had to say. But he was waiting for me to add to the conversation and I really had nothing to share. So, I asked, “You’re a professional dancer? Then wouldn’t dancing pay for your iPhone like their dancing supposedly does?”

“I take lessons. And that costs money. Not that I take lessons for fun, mind you. I have to. Fuckin’ have to so that I stay in shape.”

I considered this and added, “Well, what if they take hip-hop lessons and this is how they pay for it? I mean, growing up, did your parents pay for your lessons?”

“Fuck you, no!” He looked like he was about to spit in my face. “I grew up in what you would call the Projects here, damn Community Housin’. Don’t treat me like some damn rich white boy.”

“Whoa, whoa, man. I was just asking. I don’t know and was trying to probe about to make conversation… that’s all.”

He sulked a moment, we hit a few stops, and he finally said, “People pay to see me dance. They want to see me dance. I don’t force it on to anyone.”

“I don’t know, I’ve been dragged to the ballet a couple of times and didn’t want to see it.” It was more joke than commentary and in my mind my smile was supposed to convey that to him.

If looks could kill…

Don’t meddle in the affairs of Strangers,
Kurt