A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why me, Lord?

I want to conduct a little unscientific survey:

How many of you get stopped by complete strangers anywhere you go who either tell you their problems or engage you in completely random conversation?

This has been my special curse all of my life. Sometimes, it has been cool, like when Vincent Price personally talked to me about a modern art exhibit at the British Museum, or when Ozzie Smith teased me about playing racquetball while pregnant or when Al Gore and I joked for 3-4 minutes over a dropped contact lens.

But most of the time, it's just bizarre. If I am standing in a Barnes and Noble, minding my own business, customers approach me to ask where a book is or who an author is even if the employee is standing five feet away. It has gotten to the point that I feel they should at least give me the employee discount or put me on salary.

If I am waiting for a table in a restaurant, here will come some random dude who will tell me his life story.

Last year, on the way to work, I was asked directions to someplace while sitting in traffic at a stop light. Three times.

Today, I'm zipping along on my bike at 7:30 am, and this guy I had passed a couple of times waves me down. Since there were about thirty other people on the path with us, I stopped, and off this dude goes with this long story about a bicycle safety website he runs and blah blah blah blah freakin' blah. I was shaking him off more than Nuke Laloosh tried to shake off Crash Davis, but it was like there was a giant sucking sound before I could get away and tentacle marks left on my arm. I mean, what part of "I'm working out, here" (said like Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy) doesn't translate? You would think that being in motion would preclude these unscheduled little tete a tetes.

Anyone else out there suffering like this?

Is it my friendly, open expression? Is it that I look like I've got the answer, no matter what the question? Is it heaps of intellect bristling off my brow?

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At 7/15/08, 7:39 PM, Blogger educat said...

Is it a "teacherly" sort of look? Does such a thing exist? It's happened to me, unfortunately never with anyone famous...

At 7/15/08, 11:02 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

Oh, a Spanish person stopped me outside the Prado in Madrid to ask if I knew if there was a market nearby. An Argentinian couple asked me for directions in the Madrid airport.
I soooo know what you are going through.
You definitely should be getting the B and N discount, though.

At 7/16/08, 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the time does this happen to me. It also happens in neighborhood pools, where children (who have never met me before) will latch on to me as the person they must show all of their cool handstands and diving tricks.

No one famous has ever done this. But I am routinely stopped for directions. I guess I look approachable.....

At 7/16/08, 8:56 AM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

Sigh. Yes. In reality I'm frequently lost (my husband just bought me a GPS for this very reason), so the fact that I'm constantly stopped and asked for directions -- even when I'm a tourist -- cracks me up. I do end up with interesting stories, though. I don't know what compels people. I think I just look non-descript and non-intimidating. It could be a teacher thing.

At 7/16/08, 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People ask me for money. I mean, in places where they've cracked down on such activity (like a shopping/restaurant area in my own community) and for specific amounts (like $0.17 - yes, a guy asked me for seventeen cents.) They ask my husband, too. It must be communicable.

Once when asked for bus fare whilst walking *home* from above mentioned area, I quizzed the asker about where she'd come from. She'd said she was staff at a nursing home nearby. I asked which one since there really wasn't one close. She stumbled around for an answer. I pointed at the POLICE STATION (well, actually city hall, which has a distinctive tower) and told her they'd help and since I was a citizen of said community, I could walk her there. She declined the offer. Not sure why...

At 7/16/08, 1:24 PM, Blogger Duez said...

This is a funny and well-written post. But, you should realize how lucky you are to have these kinds of conversations with people. Have you ever stopped to think how lonely some people are that appear to not be approachable?

Try to enjoy your special "touch" with humanity.

At 7/17/08, 8:49 AM, Blogger Goldie said...

Nope, no one does, I mean other than random guys trying to pick me up, and that has been fading rapidly lately. One dude asked me for spare change this summer, then upon receiving it, asked if we could get to know each other better. But this is really the most human interaction I had with random strangers in the last year.
People do ask me directions, at stop lights too - guess I must look local. Not sure if it's a good thing.
My guess is you have higher than average social skills, and it shows on your face, hence the strangers trying to talk to you. I, on the other hand - much less than average. That shows, too.

At 7/17/08, 2:29 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

e: it MAY be the teacher thingy....

t: But, see, you were outside a highbrow museum! That means you MUST know things!

exurb: Wow, that is a new level. I sometimes give the laser look to other people's kids in pools, but try not to engage, since one person's crazed, feral anklebiter is another person's widdow pweshus and how dare I correct them????

ls: If you were nondescript, they wouldn't notice you. Except to wonder if you own 39 cats.

bev: I wonder what was so magical about seventeen cents? I get the money thing, too. Depends on how scary they are, or how often I've seen 'em hitting up people.

40: you have an excellent point-- as long as they don't scare me.

goldie: What is this "picking up" of which you speak? I am just a tired fat married lady, so I don't remember.... But just think of what a catch you missed out on with Mr. Handout! Now that's one with some potential!

At 7/17/08, 5:06 PM, Blogger Friar said...

It does happen sometimes, but since the asker has yet to be Angie Harmon asking me if she should a)prefer Methodist pastors to former Giants football players and b)adjust her life to reflect her new preferences, it is usually boring.

At 7/17/08, 8:29 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I would think Methodist pastors would win every time.... Former football players are higher maintenance.

At 7/18/08, 9:05 AM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

People don't approach me like that, but they zero in on my wife all the time. Maybe I don't look as teacherly as she does, but she's not actually a teacher.

By the way, BN will give you a teacher discount if you ask and show them ID. I don't know if it's the same as the employee discount but it couldn't hurt to ask.

At 7/18/08, 12:12 PM, Blogger andrea said...

Nope, doesn't happen to me. Then again, sometimes I am "invisible" to clerks, cashiers and whatnot. I don't mean as in, "they're busy chit-chatting with each other", I mean, "standing right in front of them and they tell the person right behind me they're ready to help the next person". I mean, WTF?


At 7/19/08, 7:40 PM, Blogger Fred said...

I'm not one to tell a stranger anything.

However, at one point in my life I was probably on 4-6 flights a week and had my fair share of people who thought I wanted to hear their life story. Not.

I always had a paper in had to stick in my face if that happened.

At 7/20/08, 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My daughter meets someone casually and finds herself listening to the life story, relationship problems, ambitions, angst, etc. A boy she met on a summer program field trip spent an hour telling her the gory details of his life. When they met again at college two years later, she remembered everything; he didn't recognize her (or pretended he didn't.)

I don't know how people identify her so quickly as a trustworthy listener.

At 7/21/08, 11:33 AM, Blogger fillyjonk said...

I've been told "because you're an INFJ personality type, people are drawn to you to tell you their problems."

I do get it a lot. And I'm not exactly sending off approachability waves. I tend to attract the crazies...the people in the checkout line who believe raspberries are a government conspiracy, the sad-sacks who have to tell me all the bad choices they made in their lives (while at the same time giving me that "approve of me, please. Tell me it's not my fault, please" look), the people with truly hair-raising TMI stories that I don't want to know.

I don't know. I just wish cute SANE single guys would approach me once in a while...heck, they don't even have to be cute, just single and sane and within 15 years of my age....

I don't make new friends by being approached; I wind up being the drive-by therapist.


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