“Something was comforting about strangers—it seemed like they would exist forever as the same, unknowable mass.”
― Megan Boyle
He’s a half a sentence in before i’m shaken out of my staring contest with a sleeping homeless man and am alert enough to notice that he is rounding the bases and about to slide into my personal space.
“….you have studs on your shoes and your sunglasses are awkwardly round,” he says to me, this stranger in a button down shirt and pants the color of mold that grows on shower curtains. He’s decided to use the ol’ Spanish Inquisition technique to get my attention. “That’s what YOU call style?”
He’s now squinting at the sight of me, his lips look like two bean bag chairs stacked on top of one another, sagging in the middle, and his mind is in chaoots over how one human being can get away with wearing polyester, glitter and studs at the same time.
“It’s my style,” I say with one hand on my Snapple bottle and the other, sliding through the handles of my purse. I’m ready for any kind of sudden movement he may make. Whether he wants to steal me for closer examination or to rob my pajama jean wearing self, taking the contents of my hefty wallet: $1.40 in dimes and an Old Navy coupon.
I’m expecting a standing ovation for my monologue perfectly titled, “I don’t care what people think”, but I make it only half way through my rant before the stranger makes himself an occupant of the empty half of the wooden park bench that’s been warming my butt for the past 45 minutes.
I’m telling him how I’ve been stuck on this bench for far too long. My ears are having an affair with the Church acapella group to the left and my eyes, engaged with a group of NYU actors rehearsing “Taming of the Shrew” on the right. I’ve now moved on to a new monologue i like to call “I wish I could do that, but I can’t.”
“Why not?” he barges in to interrupt me. As if he’s read my resume, visited my home in Florida and saw past report cards hanging on the fridge and dust collecting on top of old trophies and medals from my adventurous days. “People can do anything they want to do in this world, with some practice.”
And i give him one of those smiles that we reserve just for strangers. Collapsed lips that curve to one side. It’s an unflattering look because it’s backed with a mixology of uncertainty, excitement, pulsating nerves of “what ifs”.
Strangers, honest strangers, are the most dangerous people there are. There’s no need for them to tell you that you look dandy in that two sizes too small black dress because they don’t have to wake up next to you tomorrow morning and be committed to loving your morning breath. They don’t have to listen to you talk about how you broke up with your boyfriend for the 17th time this winter and vow to never go back to him, again, and eat their body weight in ice cream cake with you–because friends don’t let friends overdose on calories, alone. They won’t be around to watch the cellulite cling to your thighs and the wrinkles clog the drains of your forehead.They will tell you exactly how they feel, and then, well then, they will leave.
But yet, the people who often flip our worlds upside down are the ones that shouldn’t know anything about us, but yet somehow they do. And in a matter of seconds, a stranger can change your life in ways that someone you know for 15 years never can.
I’m flattered because i can feel my cheeks start to burn and I rest my open palm over my heart.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it specifically about you he said,” becoming an Indian giver of compliments. “I just meant in general.”
And as he quickly gets up to leave, going back into this festering jungle of humans who speak with their eyes looking down at screens and trade their vocal chords in for the courage of a keyboard, he lets me know one final thing. As if he hasn’t already been ostentatious enough with his honesty during our 10 minute conversation he says:
“By the way,” the stranger dips his sunglasses to peer his jelly been shaped eyes out and look into mine, “you somehow have pink lipstick around your nose.”
And just like that he is gone. Leaving me clawing at my face with a napkin oozing of excess cream cheese, whipping off the stains of melted magenta lipstick that has now somehow spread on to my eyebrows.
It’s a shame I’ll never see him again.