Stop And Chat
It’s now March. That means people are starting to get excited about the longer days, and more sunshine.
These are great things.
But it’s also getting to that time where people talk about how great it is to “get out of the house” or “be outside” and things like that.
On paper, this sounds good.
But the reality of going outside holds many complications.
You shower, put on some fresh clothes, get an album ready to go on the iPod so you can stroll around somewhere nice, maybe have an ice-cream, and stretch your legs and be one with nature.
And then everything goes to shit, just like always.
Because you leave the house and there they are.
They’re always out doing something.
Washing the car, doing some gardening, putting something out in the bin.
How do I always manage to leave my house at the very moment they’re doing this shit?
Straight away, out with the earphones for a neighbourly stop-and-chat.
– “Hiya Mark!”
Ah, how’s it going?
– “Lovely day!”
– “Great isn’t it?”
Ah it is yeah.
– “Still in college?”
I am yeah, still going.
– “Fair play to ya!”
Thanks, see ya now!
– “See ya!”
It’s just a conversation dynamic that I’m not equipped to deal with.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in a time where conversations I didn’t want to have could be ended with a simple “Appear offline”.
I’m not much better with street conversations with people my own age either.
One of my most hated moments in the world is when I’m walking along and see someone I know.
Except that person is around 30 yards away. Maybe a 10 second walk.
Those ten seconds are pure agony.
You look up and see them.
It could be anyone.
The lad from school you sat beside in one class for a whole year and never spoke to since.
The girl you fingered one night and who then added you on Facebook, probably out of politeness.
The girl you fingered one night who then never added you on Facebook, the ignorant cow. Her loss anyway.
You see them, they see you.
You do something to indicate you see each other.
A smile or a nod. Grand.
And then you’re just walking towards each other.
Too far away to start speaking.
Too close to ignore each other.
So you’re just looking at each other like long lost lovers.
I wish there was a rulebook for this sort of thing.
My mind panics.
Oh shit, it’s himself. What are we going to talk about? What does he do in college again? Maths? Science? It could be anything, I better avoid it altogether so I don’t put my foot in it. Is he still going out with that girl? I saw her tagged in some photos last week with some other lad and they were looking pretty friendly. Avoid that too, so. Ah for fuck’s sake. There’s nothing. I have nothing. I’m going into this stop-and-chat with my trousers around my ankles and my dick in my hand. He’s probably got a double-barreled gun full of conversation. He was probably out doing fun stuff last night that he can tell me all about.
Look at the grin on his big interesting conversational face. I’ll stand there nodding along like one of those nodding dogs you see in the back of cars. Actually, you don’t see those dogs much anymore, where’ve they gone to? I liked them. No time to think about that now, this is a code red. He’ll probably ask me what I’ve been doing lately. What the fuck can I say to that? I have no idea what I’ve been doing lately. “Well mate, last night I stayed in and started watching porn but stopped halfway through because I got distracted when I started wondering how many porn stars have STIs, and that put me right off my stroke. So eh, have you ever had an STI?” Fucking hell, why me?
Finally, after an excruciating few seconds, you begin the conversation.
Conversation goes on
– How’s things?
– Good, and yourself?
“Ah sure. Any news?”
– Nah, same old. Still working in X/going to Y/doing Z?
“Yep, sure am.”
The problem with the stop-and-chat is that there’s no boundaries. That’s why I find them unnerving, even if I really like the person.
The conversation could go on forever until someone steps up and ends the bullshit.
Sadly I tend to do this a little early.
There’ll be a little lull in the conversation and I think that’s my chance to stick the knife in and be on my way.
But then the other person thinks this is their cue to ask a new question.
So I attempt to say something like “Anyway, I’ll let you go“.
They cut across me with something like “Any plans for the weekend?”
But they’ve heard me try to end the conversation.
They know I’m done. I want no more.
I answer the question and soon we part ways.
There’s also no context. If you see someone at a gig or something – BAM – you talk about the band. See someone on he street? Nothing. Pluck something out of thin air and see how it goes.
Generally there’s no lasting bad effects from these incidents. Any embarrassment fades fairly sharply.
But I’m still suffering the effects one Sunday morning when I went to the shop to pick up something for breakfast.
I was hungover. It was one of those hangovers where your head isn’t exactly in pain, but is a bit fuzzy.
I find when I’m like this, I tend to talk more, and can be much more friendly than normal.
I turned a corner and saw a man.
A middle-aged man.
A middle-aged man I recognised.
He was the Dad of a guy I played football with years ago.
I last played with the guy when I was 14 I’d say.
But I still recognised his Dad.
My hungover mind processed the fact that I recognised this man standing before me, and that the socially acceptable thing to do would be to say hello.
“Hiya Oliver!” I blurted out with uncharacteristic cheer.
It was only when I saw the look of complete and utter bemusement on the man’s face that I realised what a weird thing I’d done.
He did not know me.
I only recognised him as an old friend’s dad.
I said hello to him so enthusiastically. As if I were a game show host and he were the contestant.
He looked at me and murmured.
I didn’t make out his murmurs. He was that surprised and creeped out.
I walked away shamefully.
I now see Oliver almost every fucking time I walk down to the village.
It’s absurd how often I see him.
And I set a precedent that day.
A precedent that I am in no way going to follow up.
I see him now and get the head down and pretend it never happened.
I’ll never forget that day.
I don’t think there’s one person in the whole world who I knew less, but whose name I would actually know.
Leaving the house, eh?
Not worth it.
You’re safe there.
Safe and with internet access.
Everything you could want.