Talking to Strangers
In one of my favorite dialogue exchanges within the movie Ghost World, Enid (Thora Birch) visits her friend Rebecca (the much-hyped Scarlett Johansson) at work in a hopping mainstream café, ala Starbucks. Rebecca is behind the counter, taking coffee orders from the no-nonsense snobs who are vehemently opposed to being offered biscotti. “God, how can you stand all of these assholes,” Enid asks. To which Rebecca replies, “I don’t know some people are okay, but mostly I feel like poisoning everybody…You’ll see…you get totally sick of all of the creeps and losers and weirdos.”
I chuckle throughout the movie, but it is the true to life observational humor that gets me thinking just how accurate this dialogue really is when it comes to retail work and all of the weirdos that come with it. In the nine years I have been employed at a local supermarket, I have collected a cult following of strange characters. Conspiracy theorists, organic obsessed shoppers who want to trade tofu recipes, fifty-something men who find me (or judging by their lack of eye contact, my chest) just “charming.” I don’t know how exactly these encounters came to be. And furthermore, I don’t know these people have come to confide in me, just a stranger in the supermarket helping them find their groceries.
Usually I try to indulge these characters in conversation, for the sake of their own sanity. But more often than not, this means twenty minutes of my time lost to rambling nonsense… followed by utter confusion… with a heaping side order of splitting headache. But there is one illusive stranger who, for nine long years, I’ve longed to speak with. To my knowledge he has never actually set foot in the store. I’ve only ever seen him outside. Digging through the trash cans. Drinking the found contents of disposed beverages. Sadly, I can’t say this is atypical….say, for a homeless inner city soul searching for nourishment. But I also can’t say that I’ve ever seen the events narrated, in the third-person by a man in neatly pressed tux.
– read. like. support. –
– read. like. support. –
Presumably not homeless judging by the laundered attire, he stands there–the man in the tux–drinking flat soda, warm beer and lord knows what else. He never bothers anyone, unless you account for that queasy feeling in your stomach having seen his antics. Day or night, he’s there, removing lids from the receptacles, peering inside. What he is hoping to find, I’m not sure. But his efforts are futile as he stumbles on to the next can, defeated. This I do know. I know because he is compelled to proclaim his adventure aloud with the poetic posturing of a man on a mission unknown. “Alas, he searches…ruins, waste. Coke! Pepsi! Coke! Finding nothing.” He is the William Shatner of dumpster divers, a rare breed of bat shit crazy, punctuating his speech with pregnant pause.
Now, what could drive a person to this behavior, you may ask. While we may never be certain, I have a theory, dear readers. The tux, the seemingly quenchless thirst for something more, the third person speech. Driven mad, pushed beyond the brink of sanity by one too many rejection letters, he is dressed, waiting for the Pulitzer that will never come.
“We thank you for your query but this is not right for our publication…”
And just like that, the world has another would-be writer lost in their own delusions, roaming the streets in an endless search for recognition.
Mind you, this is just a theory. My morbid curiosity, my need to get the story tempts me…I contemplate buying him the beverage of his choice, sitting him down and having a talk. Well, a listen. Having a listen. For nine years he’s been roaming and rambling. He, undoubtedly, has much to say. Call it intuition. Call it valuing my life. But playing twenty questions with someone who is clearly mentally unstable is seemingly not the safest of ideas. But oh would it satisfy the strange desire to know. Just to know the story of those strange-strangers who seem to know me. To know “all of the creeps and losers and weirdos.” Because while some are quick to dismiss them as such, I laugh myself into a contemplative sigh as Enid argues, “but those are our people…”