Talking to Strangers

“Are you a detective?” 

A guy sitting a few seats down at the bar asks this question to my friend, who has just finished scribbling a few lines in a small flip notebook.

“No,” my friend answers. He slides the notebook back into his breast pocket.

“You should’ve said yes,” I tell him. “You have a cop mustache.”

“Damn. I should’ve.”

I’m a little annoyed that I wasn’t the one the guy asked– I’ve been scribbling in a flip notebook for years. Sometimes I like to think I look like a detective, and other times I just hope I don’t look like a pretentious asshole.

“So, what do you do, then?” the guy asks.

“Accountant,” my friend says. 

“I’m a writer,” I say. 

It’s Thursday night, and Patrick is at home with our baby. I have a couple of free hours and no agenda but to get out into the world for a bit. As soon as I left the house this evening, the to-do list that endlessly scrolls in my brain faded into the background. Thoughts began to surface, bubbling up in time to the music I fed through the speakers. I was tired from the long day, but I felt my mind waking up. Now, at the bar, I’m drinking club soda and lime and scribbling down phrases from signs I’ve seen, conversations I’ve overheard. I ink down fragments of ideas that I will grow into sentences and paragraphs, if I’m lucky, in the little blocks of time I get while my baby is occupied. 

I used to feel like an imposter saying that I’m a writer. Now I usually don’t. My free time is focused toward writing and reading and art, my creative life a conscious priority. I don’t think an imposter would fight this hard.

“You’re writers? Oh shit.”

“No, I’m an accountant,” my friend says again. “I write numbers.”

The guy takes no heed of this. “I always wanted to be the next Neal Cassady,” he says. “Like, have someone follow me around and write about me.”

“Well,” I ask, “do you do any crazy shit?”

“I could do some crazy shit. Are you guys gonna follow me? If I knew someone was gonna write about me, I could play it up.” 

“No, listen,” I say. “You just gotta do crazy shit for the love of craziness, whether anyone’s writing it down or not.”

I don’t necessarily like writing about craziness, though. One interaction I think about a lot is a conversation with this kid who used to drive an ice truck. Patrick and I stood outside smoking with him. The kid tugged his sweatshirt so we could see the logo on his chest. “You know that ice?” he said, and we nodded eagerly, like this bagged ice was famous. He told us about how one day he got into a crash in the ice truck. “On 271,” he said. “The truck flipped and ice went all over the road. I was buckled in, so I was sitting there, and the passenger side was closer to the ground, behind me. So I was like, oh shit. I unbuckled myself and fell through the window.” He said he’d been scared of driving ever since. I think about that kid all the time.

Eventually, the guy at the bar gets up to leave, asks my friend: “So, are you guys gonna follow me around?” and we tell him no.

“I have no interest in seeing what that man gets up to,” my friend says once the guy is gone.

“Sometimes you don’t find a winner,” I agree. 

But it’s always good to be prepared, just in case.

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