Thursday, July 20, 2006

Talk to Me

I had another conversation with Rick at the dry cleaners yesterday. No, not Rick as in husband Rick; Rick. You know, he owns the dry cleaners. What? You don’t know anything about Dry-Cleaner-Owner-Rick? Sure you do, I’m certain I mentioned him [maybe just in passing]. I guess I’ve been remiss in telling that story and the other stories along the same lines.  I guess I always meant to, but just have not sat down to do it. Some days I get the urge to write and others I just don’t. The words don’t come. Today after having another one of those kinds of days when people just strike up conversations, I think it needs to be said. I must have a sign on me that reads “Talk to Me.” What is it about myself that encourages people, strangers mostly, to talk to me? I don’t think I look all that friendly. Is it something about my body language? Am I wearing a goofy smile I don’t know about? I honestly don’t know. But talk to me they do. We’ll start with episodes about a month ago that ties in with the one with Rick today that reminded me I need to write about this.

There are two dry cleaners within a close distance of the house. The first time we needed dry cleaning done I had to choose between the two. Each is located at a strip mall next to a grocery store. Both groceries are different, and maybe one is closer than the other. It’s pretty much a toss-up. One looks all industrial and like a typical “Chinese laundry” and the other looks less hectic. I chose the smaller, less hectic one because I was going that direction. On dropping off the clothes, the guy behind the counter says he’s doing a survey because he’s done some advertising lately [probably trying to keep up with the other cleaners who are always busy] and wants to know why I chose to come to his. I hate admitting I’m new to the area, but it’s the truth, so I tell him the truth. I said, I’m new to the area and I had my choice between shopping at Shop Rite or the A&P today. The A&P won, so here I am. He then asks where I came from. When I told him we had moved from Colorado, the next thing I know he’s asking me for advice about which ski town they should take their winter vacation in. Vail or Aspen? We have a long discussion about this [I say Aspen is the place] and he recommends an Italian restaurant that he likes. He tells me they had his son’s communion celebration there. He welcomes me to the community.

I was just browsing the magazine rack in our local Eckard drug store. A man was on his knees stocking magazines. He asked if he was in my way. I said, no really, you’re fine. He said, actually I’m not fine at all. My knees are killin’ me. I really need a knee replacement but I’m taking this medication for my heart, so my doc says no go on an operation. Too risky. I murmur my regrets and say something about being sorry. He goes on to tell me more. About how he needs to have these injections [some new technology that is less invasive than surgery but better than cortisone shots] but for one reason or another [you see, I am not that good a listener!] he can’t have the injections just yet, he has to wait. In the meantime he’s just miserable and he can’t exercise like he used. to. He used to do a mile a day, jogging. Not now. He was losing weight before his knee started up. He was really proud of himself and the doctor even commented on his loss. All through this I am just nodding and interjecting, gosh, how awful or some such inane chatter. I don’t think he cares what I say, he just wants someone to talk to. After about ten minutes or so, he looks up from his task of changing out the magazines and says, I’m really sorry for keeping you like this and telling you all my troubles. Thanks for listening to me. I say, no problem at all, glad to help.

Not two days after this Rick [as in husband, not the dry cleaner owner]  and I are in the grocery on a weekend doing our shopping. An elderly woman looking rather confused came up to me and asked if I knew where the pastina was? I must have looked at her a bit strangely, as she said, you know, it’s the tiny pasta, do you know where it is? I’m over 80 and I hate shopping these days. I can’t seem to find anything. I tell her she doesn’t look her age. She giggles like a girl, and goes on to tell me she’s been married for 60 years and her husband is not doing very well. She needs the smallest pasta for him because it’s the only thing he can eat anymore. It’s a trial she tells me, looking out for him. He’s not what he once was and can’t remember much. I don’t remember much either unless I write it down, and most times I can’t remember to write it down. She shakes her head sadly. Rick by now has come looking for me to see what it taking me so long. I tell her I think it’s in the next aisle over. When I leave her she is still looking in the same spot. So, I go over to the pasta aisle, find her pastina for her and take it to her. Is this the right thing? I ask her. She says YES! this is what I was looking for, thank you so much!

Yesterday I dropped off the dry cleaning and Rick was at the counter. This is only the second time I’ve seen him. He asked where my accent was from. Accent, me? Really? I don’t have an accent I think to myself, or is it the abscence of a New Jersey accent that tips him off? The minute I say I’m not from around here, he’s ahead of me and says, You’re my Colorado customer, I remember now! Which town did you tell me, I can’t seem to remember. Was Aspen or Vail the better place to go? I need to write it down so I don’t forget. We straighten out his vacation and he asks me how I’m liking it here in NJ. He asks if I’m ready for our heat wave coming this weekend. I say no, and he says oh, it probably doesn’t get that hot back in Colorado, huh? I straighten him out on that one too and our conversation reverts to snow removal on the streets. We compare NJ to Colorado. Ten minutes of chit-chat later and I’m on my way.

I’m not complaining. I don’t mind taking the extra time to chat with people. And if I can help them in some small way, either by listening or lending a helping hand, all the better. I also learn by listening and exchanging information. But I’d still like to know if this happens to everybody or is it just me?


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