i was the hiding from the kind of crabby that manifests on about day 23 of my lunar schedule. the kind of day where you shake your fist at the moon and yelp: you've made your presense known! i laughed! i cried! all within 20 seconds of each other! i have supplies in my purse! i'm ready! now. just. get. here. before i completely alienate myself from society!"
ugh. bad day.
that's when the stranger to my right announced: i'm having the best day of my life! first i got a free three-disc box set of tom waits and then i found 100 dollars on the floor of the bathroom!
i silently blamed him for hording all the good luck.
when i was a tot, strangers were the enemy. every single face i did not recognize was just another person who could potentially throw me into the back of his windowless white van and make for somewhere exotic. like maple grove or chaska. every playground, side road or patch of wooded area was just another way to end up on the back of a milk carton. thousands of families ignoring my freckled face and bowl cut in favor of mindlessly chewing to the nutrition facts on the side of a box of peanut butter captain crunch.
hair: shoulder length, redish brown
last seen: the jiffy mart
wearing: pin stripped jeans and a yellow polo shirt. pink comb in her back pocket.
midnight-colored 10-speed abandoned in a ditch, shoelace still attached to the pedal. my bloodied light blue members only jacket hanging from a fir. jolly rancher wrappers scattered in the wind.
my parents feared strangers more than i did. they were sure my brother or i would eventually get taken. that the world's pervs were in the market for skinny little, gap toothed, snot-slinging smart asses with ugly feet and unfortunate hair. the time he was kicked out of the car for yanking the stocking cap over my eyes repeatedly, forced to walk to my grandma's in the dark and arrived without incident? that story is called: the time brother almost got kidnapped. subtitle: the one time in my life i didn't get in trouble for watching "the dukes of hazard." in the confusion of all those hugs and nevermind phone calls to 911, my grandma had forgotten i wasn't allowed to watch that show.
we had a code word in our family, lest someone try to lure me with a coy: your mom asked me to pick you up from school today. she's going to be super mad if you don't come with me right now. you like michael jackson? i'm playing his tape in my white windowless van. ever been to canada? here. try a jolly rancher.
unless that man said the code word "oreo," i wasn't going anywhere.
in the infancy of the internet, i frequently posted my juvenile musings on music bulletin boards. most frequently, a depeche mode fan site where i went by the alias lil girl. (a true depeche mode fan will know the relevance). but i visited other sites, one for the young and the restless where i defended the character crickett's honor, and one devoted to devotees of the song "opp" by naughty by nature.
that's where i met jim from gorham, maine. a similar-aged stranger with whom i exchanged emails about how hard it was to be 14 in 1989. math class and changing bodies and all those rules ... he also liked the song "humpty dance."
we corresponded for about two years. i never told my parents about him because he was a stranger. to them, every other person with internet access was a middle-aged cheeto-eating sicko, sitting in his mother's basement with his pants around his ankles and a severed head for a coffee cup.
once jim from maine wanted us to exchange photos via mail. real mail. stamp mail. i sent him my class photo. in order to distract my parents from the fact that i'd given a stranger directions to my floor-level bedroom window, i asked him to put the name of one of my former classmate's in the return address.
he spelled my friend's last name wrong.
"who is bob calongo?" my mom asked, having intercepted the letter.
"bob bob. you know bob," i said.
"i thought his last name was [not calongo]?" she said.
"it is," i told her. "he probably did that as a joke."
"i thought he moved to chicago?" she pressed. "this is from maine."
"that bob," i said, ripped the letter from her hands and hid in the bathroom as i flipped through his pictures.
jim from maine eventually asked me if i wanted to start exchanging sexier emails. i let him go first and spent a day and a half seeped in a perminant blush. things grew awkward after that. his parents eventually cancelled their internet access, likely believing it was a fad. he sent a few notes from his best friend's computer. then my friendship with a stranger died.
but there were more. each school year brought a new opportunity for me to step outside my friend group for an obscure new stranger. there was luis, from mexico, who named his guitar after me; andy the trombone player, who let me cut his hair. then repeatedly drove past my house until his sophomore year of college; amanda, who was as slow of a cross country runner as me and had also cashed in her v-card the previous summer; maria, from italy, who craved mcdonalds cheeseburgers and often said: "i smell somefing ..."; actually, even bob calongo was originally a stranger. he was intoxicating to my sensory system. like he'd broken a bottle of eternity cologne in his locker.
in college there was a quirky hurdler who had never touched female flesh. we dated awhile. and there was daniel, from poetry class. i wrote a sonnet about how his gap jeans hung from his hips.
out of college there was a two-year instant message friendship with mike from the suburbs. i finally agreed to meet him at a truck stop in canon falls. he watched me eat an omelet, then it was time to leave. he gave me a hug. i backed away. walked toward my car.
"want to get in my back seat?" he asked. pointed to his hot rod.
"nah," i said.
we never chatted again.
i still love strangers. i welcome the chance to scooch in next to one at a bar. exchange life stories, billed as fact but doused in fiction. they don't require a back story. they can't call your bluff. on the other hand, i've told strangers things i've not told friends. you've never done something stupid in front of them, and if you do tonite ... who cares?
its a one night friend stand.
equally liberating is the fact that when they become dull, you simply walk away. become consumed by an episode of "cops" playing on the bar tv. study your finger nails and frown. or maybe you don't even say anything at all.
this is called antisocial socializing. and this is what i needed last nite.
so i drank a beer. had part of another. eavesdropped on my neighbors and occasionally contributed. mostly we all just watched "cops" on the bar tv and frowned.
at the end of the night i did a shot of sambuca. lit the liquor with a bic so the top glowed blue. i watched the flame for so long, that it eventually became necessary to transfer the contents to another glass so i didn't burn my lips.
the sambuca tasted like warm anise candy, taken from a stranger.