Originally posted July 14, 2010...
The summer between my third and fourth year of University, I took a job at one of the libraries on campus. They were consolidating two libraries into one, as I remember it, so a whole bunch of students (let’s say twenty) were hired to take down, transport, and re-shelve hundreds of dusty old books. I think there were two waves of hires. The first group was hired in late April, let’s say, and I, along with a few other guys, was brought in mid-May. So on our first day, me and the other guys in Group 2 had a tour of the building along with some vague instructions, and were brought into the lunchroom for our first meeting with Group 1. Group 1, having already worked together for a few weeks, was a tight-knit group, so being thrown into the break room that first day was kind of awkward. Especially since one guy from our group of Newbies (I want to say his name was Adam), was a good-looking charismatic guy who, by way of introducing himself, told everyone about the time he went skydiving and his parachute didn’t deploy. How in the hell do you follow a story like that? I have no parallel anecdote to a skydiving mishap. “This one time, I was walking down the stairs, and I thought I was at the bottom of the stairs, but then there was another step… Yeah, almost lost my footing there, it was like…whoa.” So I turned to another Newb whose name was Joel and said, “Well we have nothing to offer these people.” He probably smiled or chuckled amiably or something, but instead of joining me in a sulk, walked over to the next table and began chatting with Melissa, a girl he had just met that day who obviously caught his eye. Well, I just found out (thanks to Facebook) that young Joel and Melissa were married this past weekend! How neat is that? Rather than drink bad coffee and sit in a corner (like me), Joel took a chance on a cold intro to a stranger and met his future wife!
Years later, at another job, I was training Mike, a guy I knew tangentially as a customer, but had only spent a few hours with as a coworker. I liked him a lot, but wouldn’t presume we were anything more than acquaintances at that point. One morning when I was working and Mike was not, he came into the store and stood around sort of anxiously waiting for me to finish with a customer. I perceived he was a little antsy and asked him what was up. He cleared his throat and approached my till sort of nervously and said, “I was wondering, uh… if you and your boyfriend… if you’re not busy… if you guys wanted to go see a movie with my wife and me tonight?” Well naturally I accepted and I’ll always be so grateful to Mike for that. He and Nahanni and me and Jon are a pretty rad foursome (fivesome if you count Lua, and I always do). When you’re out of school and you’re not in some stupid club like the Elks or Narc Anon, you don’t make friends very easily. Mike took a risk I wouldn’t have taken myself, solely out of fear of rejection and because of that, I have lifelong friends. And it’s quite possible that Mike remembers it differently, and saw no risk in inviting a coworker to a movie, because that’s just the kind of person he is. That’s the kind of person I want to be.
Dream: Take more risks with strangers.
Goal: Achievable. There are millions of people in this Big City, and while Jon and I are extremely grateful for the friends we do have, we could always use more, so maybe if I were a bigger social risk-taker, we’d have a fuller social calender.
Plan: Several. As I take stock of the amazing people in my life, I realize that most of those relationships came to pass through them being proactive, and me simply forgetting to resist. I’ve been lucky so far that these people persevered in the face of my social awkwardness, but my luck may run out, so it’s time to make a few changes.
1) Less iPodding, more chit-chatting.
I blame Apple. Somewhere along the way, it became completely unacceptable to stand next to someone in an elevator, sit next to them on public transit, or wait in line at the grocery store and make small talk. Headphones become the perfect excuse to ignore everyone all the time. Now we treat the aforementioned situations like we’re all peeing side by side at a urinal, where one does not speak to, look at or acknowledge the person next to them. (Ladies I have no comparative situation… maybe a group mammogram or something? I don’t know how it works with you all). And I’m so out of practice that whenever I try to make small talk in these situations I come off sounding like the snarkiest bitch in all the land. The other day at Loblaws, the guy ahead of me was buying only two things: a giant tub of yogurt and a package of plastic spoons. So I joked, “Are you having a party at your house?” And he turned to me all miffed and said, “What?” I tried weakly to explain that it looked like he was taking home the giant yogurt and spoons to have a yogurt party or something to which he just looked at me and said, finally, “…No.” And that was that.
2) You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.
The face I make when I’m not making any face at all apparently looks like a sulky, tired drug addict. My eyes are naturally droopy and dark-circled and I don’t really… what’s the expression… brush my hair, so I can’t fault people for thinking that. Coworkers will say things like, “Rough night last night?” after I’ve had a perfectly sound sleep or, even worse, “Are you mad at me?” And no matter how many times I go, “Oh no! No no no! I was just thinking about those Black Pepper Jack Doritos and how you can’t get them anymore”, nobody believes me. So I gotta smile more and lastly…
3) Let it happen.
Lest you think I’ve never taken a social risk before, one more story. Four and a half years ago, I made the ambitious plan to attend my first political rally at a gay bar. It was the gay part that excited me, the politics were immaterial. I just figured the one night I could drag myself solo to a gay bar and not feel like a total slut was if I could bring a notebook and pretend to listen to mayoral candidates and say things like, “That platform’s a little shakey, no?” Anyway, I remember standing there for forty-five minutes, pretending to wait for a fake person to show up, stopping only to check my cellphone in the bathroom where there was a message from my friend Shannon saying, “Are you in that bar right now? You’d better not be in that bar, James. Don’t do it.” Just as I was about to heed her advice and pack it in, a gorgeous bespectacled gentleman walked in on the arm of another man. Ignoring all common sense, I locked eyes with Spectacles, crossed the crowded bar, stood in front of him, and froze (that’s all I had planned). The man on his arm dematerialized (he turned out to be just a friend, not that it would have mattered) and Spectacles said, “I’m Jon.” Having misheard, I asked, “Sean?” “No, Jon,” he replied. “You know, as in Deere.” I laughed, he looked confused, and that was it.
So there it is. I took a big social risk and reaped the greatest reward I could ask for. So here’s hoping the next time you see me, I’ve got a big smile on my face, no headphones in, a big tub of yogurt, and an extra spoon.