Talking to Strangers


I’ve always liked to talk to random people. I’ve been doing it forever. In fact, looking back at my history, I realized I would go to some location that was unique to me, plop myself down, and continue going there regularly enough that everyone started feeling comfortable enough to strike up conversations with me. I think I even put that in one of my books, briefly. But some of the places I went were:

* the jewelry district in downtown Los Angeles
* a Hispanic swap meet in midtown LA
* an immersive English <--> Japanese informal “class” in Little Tokyo
* Hermosa Beach pier
* various clubs from goth, industrial, BDSM, reggae, disco, britpop, 80s, 60s soul, etc (it works really well at clubs)
* coffee shops and pool halls and poolhall/coffee shops
* anywhere and everywhere with my dog

I don’t know. I’ve done it a lot. And it seems weird in retrospect. But I’d just plop myself somewhere and stand there observing some aspect of society I wasn’t familiar with. People watching. I’ve been asked SOOO many times if I’m the security guard or to get directions or whatever because I’m some tall guy standing somewhere with my arms crossed staring at everyone I simply HAD to be getting paid for it.

It’s documented that talking to strangers is actually quite beneficial to us. And it’s really beneficial to a writer.

I was going to a doctor’s appointment yesterday and realized I had the wrong building because they moved. So I was outside trying to get a cell signal to look up their new address when an older woman walked up to me and struck up a conversation based on my t-shirt. (I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened. Being tall, immobile, with vibrant t-shirts is a way to get people talking.)

She was African American and we got to talking about comic books in the 60s. I’m looking back and forth at my phone because I’m already 30 mins late to my appointment. But she was saying how her father was white and mother was black and her grandfather was a member of the KKK. And they held a funeral for her father. Service, tombstone, everything, while he was still alive. Because him marrying a black woman meant he was dead to them.

I didn’t add much, I said something about how comic books were a uniquely American cultural idea. They have similar things in other countries, but the whole super human fighting evil is very American. And she was saying how comic books were a great help to her in the South and her family situation. Not only as an escape, but the ideals of this larger responsibility and good.

We were standing in front of a medical office, blocking the doorway talking about random shit. I told her I had to run, and I could see she was kind of hurt that I was ending our conversation so “soon.” But I had to go and learn I was the proud owner of a big new kidney stone that is going to make my life miserable in 0-8 weeks.

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