Beautiful freckled intern

Yes, I’ll admit it. I was checking you out. How could I not? You had long red hair, the cutest freckles across your nose, and when you turned to look at me I could have sworn I saw a flash of humor in your green eyes. Your work badge marked “INTERN”. What were you listening to on your iPod, I wondered?

My day had been pretty crappy but you were a bright spot. So what did I do? I had used up my courage so instead of talking to you I TEXTED MY FRIEND ABOUT YOU, asking for advice. And, yes, I tried to get a picture. I didn’t take one, though – felt too obvious. That’s when you looked at me. Those green eyes…

My bus came and I figured I’d never see you again. Untill I noticed you standing behind me waiting for that bus, too? I found enough grace to wave you ahead of me, for admittedly selfish reasons. Your smile then is still in my mind’s eye.

The whole thing became even more surreal when, on the bus, you pulled out a book. I was facing your way, took a peek, and was floored when I saw that it was a book by Albert Camus – IN THE ORIGINAL FRENCH. Beautiful, lives in my neighborhood, and inteligent, too? Surely, I thought, someone, somewhere, is fucking with me.

I thought I’d slipped into some twilight world, where drunken gods set challenges before me when I didn’t have the strength of will to accept and overcome them.

And as I approached my stop I was again crushed by my own inaction. Until, incredibly, you pulled the bell. OK, now, now, I see that the drunken gods were indeed laughing at me.

I stepped off the bus behind you, you turned to cross the street, I walked on to my dingy dismal empty home, wishing for another chance, knowing I’d blown about a billion chances already.

Do I deserve another chance? Maybe not, but we don’t get 100% of what we don’t ask for. Or something like that.

This continues to fascinate me – the seeming difficulty for people (mainly, me) to strike up conversations with random people. I’ve done it before but not often. Most of the time I feel like I’m trapped inside my body while it just goes and doesn’t talk to someone I’d like to at least say “hi” to.

Reading the Willy Week today, their cover story is about the crowd reaction when an apparent bike theft is happening. They sent out an intern to seven different locations about Portland, and made him “steal” a bike that they had prepared ahead of time. He tried to be obvious, carrying a huge set of bolt cutters and hacking away at the chains on the bikes. They filmed him.

And no one tried to stop him, or accused him. Nor did they discreetly call the cops. Nothin’.

The author of the piece contrasted this with several recent incidents where a crime is foiled by quick action from an individual

The article ties this behavior to a kind of social pressure – the more people that are around, the more the “guilt” of not doing anything is shared and diluted to the point where no one feels enough guilt to actually do something. On the other hand, if someone feels that they’re the only one who is witnessing a crime in progress they have the whole burden of the guilt if the perp gets away with it – and it jolts them into action.

And the author warns that one shouldn’t feel all smug that they’d be any better – observations prove otherwise. We are all social creatures.

I think that a similar thing is happening with me. No, not with witnessing crime.

I feel a social pressure when I notice the crowd around me. I imagine them judging me if I try to step out of the “waiting at the bus stop” role. I see them around me, staring blankly ahead and not talking to each other, and it gets harder for me to act contrarily.

If lots of people are talking around me, I can step in and add to the conversation. But I’m rarely the one to get the talk started.

Likewise, in situations where talking to each other is socially permitted and even encouraged, I do fine. Like shop clerks or waitresses… or even other patrons when I’m standing in line, say, for a movie.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone in an elevator? Elevators are the worst – the social pressure to conform and be silent is gianormous. The few times I’ve talked to strangers in an elevator it’s been just me and the other person, or maybe me, a friend, and someone else. And in the last instance I started by talking to my friend, not the stranger. Don’t believe me? Next several times you ride in an elevator, face the back and don’t look at the floor indicator. It’s hard enough to stand sideways in an elevator, let alone face the completely opposite direction.

I see two experiments I’d like to try with myself to break through this self-imposed social barrier. First, if I can somehow tune out the other people around me and try to imagine that it’s just me and the other person, just the two of us… that might help me speak up.

The other route, which may not be as successful or as useful, is to try to “de-socialize” myself to the point where I feel like, well, like an outcast. A misfit. That’s the mental space I imagine those punk kids are in when they shout out on the sidewalks or turn their music up loudly on the bus. They feel they already don’t belong in society so they feel OK to break the social codes. Of course, I’m not going to start wearing a Mohawk or color my hair blue or green. Probably. But maybe I can mentally work my self image until I can see me as being outside of the rules for a short while…