I’m honestly not great with strangers

This is a post I wrote about 6 months ago and never published. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, since it’s a little self deprecating and uncomfortable. Now that I remembered it existed, I figure it might as well come to life. It’s about an actual thing I do that I don’t quite understand.

————-

May 21, 2013

Laura can’t drink right now because fetuses are total lightweights, and I’m a nice guy so I haven’t had an adult beverage in front of her during the tenure of her pregnancy. However, I still have an occasional glass of red wine with dinner when she isn’t home because, well, because wine is delicious. I have a small wine rack on the wall in the kitchen and when it becomes empty, I can’t deal. It’s the equivalent of a mess – something that isn’t the way it should be, and needs cleaned up by adding bottles of luscious red liquid arranged vertically in alternating directions for stylistic flair.

I took a quick trip to the wine store this evening after work, grabbed a few bottles I’ve never had before (usual practice, as there’s only a handful of wines I buy repeatedly) and went to the checkout. The cashier was a man of around 60, pale hair, seemingly mundane and uninterested in my existence – just the way I like a cashier. I carefully select the ones who look like they won’t attempt to chat with me, and this guy fit the bill. But then he noticed my Star Trek t-shirt.

“How about that new Trek movie!” he suddenly exclaimed, my right hand resting my debit card on the scanner.

“Ahhh, um, yeah,” I replied. “It looks tops.”

Those are the words that came out of my mouth. Mumbles, indecision, and “tops.” These were the words I said. Partially due to the instant confusion and surprise of a stranger talking to me against my expectations, and partially due to the fact my actual conversation brain doesn’t have the ability to construct logical, cogent strings of words when I don’t know with whom I am speaking. I can really only speak fluidly to people I already know, or to random people via blogs. In person, my brain makes my mouth ruin conversations so the conversation initiator loses interest and stops talking. With this guy, I was like Chief O’Brien talking to the Cardassians in the Turbolift in “The Wounded.” And that’s a reference you probably don’t understand, but this man at the cash register might have, which furthers the point that I don’t delegate my communication properly.

Maybe I was just trained really well as a child to not talk to strangers… unless they have king-size candy bars in their van, then like, YOLO and shit.

What my brain actually wanted to say to this cashier was: “OMG! ANOTHER HUMAN WHO WANTS TO TALK ABOUT STAR TREK! And one from a different generation who would likely have a different perspective and opinion on the franchise than me! How neat!”

Instead, it kicked into its normal conversation-killing mode and came up with something more like Kevin McAllister asking “Is this toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association?”

kevin mcallister macaulay culkin home alone toothbrush ada

After my fantastic opening line, I decided to work harder and fight my brain’s need to flee. I decided I had to thwart the urge to run from this chat and see how long I could go.

The man went on to say “I think I was about 15 when the original series came out. It was fantastic.”

I said, “I was two when The Next Generation started, so I am a bit behind you. But I will of course get to the new movie in time.” That was a decent retort, I thought. Maybe slightly insulting, but better than mumbling.

“I’ve seen them all,” he said.

“Me too. Many times over.”

That’s not true. I’ve seen all of TNG multiple times, but have only seen 5 of the movies, two seasons of DS9, half of TOS and never watched an episode of Voyager or Enterprise. But my original response was quicker, so I went with the fib.

Despite the lie, I felt good about those replies. They were real sentences, albeit short ones. They were at least coherent and not conversation-killing. Surely, I thought, this human would be more than satisfied with our dialogue and I could go home now. He had no idea how much work I put into it. We had bordered on a real conversation, and I was feeling the need to leave. I clutched my bag of wine bottles and scampered towards the door. As I was pushing it open with my back, forcing a smile and trying to act like a normal person, he walked away from the register saying “I sure can’t wait to see it!” in the cutest way possible.

It was fascinating and adorable. I thought this guy was awesome. I don’t even remember how I replied to that last gesture – probably a “yeah” or something equally clever as I backed out the door without losing a step.

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So why am I so bad at talking to strangers? No clue. Maybe because I always feel like I have something else I need to be doing, so I want to get out of places like stores as fast as possible and get back to real things. What’s the point of chatting up a stranger you’ll never see again?

My avoidance of the random human conversation may stem from my belief that strange people almost always want to talk about bullcrap, and I really don’t have any interest in sharing my time with a random human on the street, so usually I feel this stance is legit. But that fact taints the times when banter might actually be decent, because I avoid those conversations just as readily. The things that come out of my mouth are all strategic closing statements and comments that quash a conversation, even if I walk away thinking the conversation might have had merit if I stuck with it. It’s odd. I find people generally interesting, but actively avoid meeting new people. To those who truly know me, I can talk up a storm and they may even consider me fun (maybe). But with Trekkie cashiers at the liquor store (or pizza shop workers, doctor’s office secretaries, customer service folks or anyone else I may have to talk to), I immediately start evasive maneuvers.

Armchair psychologists, this is your cue to start diagnosing.

I don’t know what my point is, but I’ll tell you one thing: half a bottle deep into this… (what is this? checks bottle) Sterling 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Vintner’s Collection from Sonoma, I wish the wine store cashier and I had talked a little more Trek. I wish we had further discussed the shows instead of brief comments about the new film. I wish we had swapped comments on TOS and TNG and took up sides as Kirk and Picard people.

And then I could see the irony in the chatty diplomat captain who solved all the universe’s problems through dialog and community being my favorite Star Trek captain, and take a lesson from him.

But probably not.

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