“Just had a conversation with one of the local homeless guys about Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Player Piano’ (one of my favorite books of all time) and the curse of idleness.
He also tallied up for me just how much money he has to spend on speed and booze to throw up; a bodily function he enjoys very much, but considers fairly expensive to achieve. Classic Albuquerque morning.”
This post on my Facebook today triggered a host of emotions and responses.
It’s a quirky reality of my day to day, as I own a little dress shop that is in the ‘student ghetto’ neighborhood of a university town. There is also a large homeless population in the area and we see and speak with homeless people every day.
Some followers on my page were surprised and dismayed. Some asked after my safety. I know that I have missed business opportunities because some people are uncomfortable with the neighborhood. They don’t draw the distinction between poor and dangerous. I hate to lose customers, but I love this little spot.
My knee jerk response was Of course I talk to the homeless people! Every one of us deserves space in this world. Not just food and shelter, but time and contact as well. But I think the conversation goes deeper than that. And it takes me back to The South and how I was raised.
Southerners, especially southern women, talk to people. We talk to friends, and we talk to strangers. We chat in checkout lines and sometimes even in traffic when the windows are down. It seems silly to just stand there with another human person and not share a friendly hello.
Now, I know that to people from other places, this habit seems infuriating. It was quite a clash of cultures when my Native customers, who are often taciturn, were shocked by my volume and my overly familiar conversation. We are seen as too chatty, as too invasive, and sometimes it comes across as incredibly false if it’s not how you were brought up. My meema was a queen bee chatter. She could not keep her peace in a market line or an elevator. It would begin with checking in on your day but would quickly advance to your health, your happiness, and the unavoidable “how’s your mama?”. If you didn’t know her well, you might have thought that this was all an affect but it was not. I have never known someone to genuinely care about someone’s day more than her. She remembered everyone’s birthday. She knew the names of the kids and grandkids of the checkout people at the Kroger. She knew if her bank teller was serious about her boyfriend and wept with her when they got engaged. That woman’s heart (and insatiable curiosity) were legit.
Not only can this be jarring if it’s not your cup of tea, but many of us have become awfully withdrawn just trying to survive the walk to work or school amidst the barrage of pickups, catcalls, and fear of stalkers and violence. Julia Sugarbaker was our collective hero when she shut down Ray Don Simpson, but it has hardened us, no? Being told to smile or be more pleasant.
Key Part of the video below:
A middle-aged man interrupts the ladies in a sushi bar:
MAN: Allow me to introduce myself — Ray Don Simpson.
JULIA: There’s no need for introductions, Ray Don, we know who you are.
RAY DON: (smiling) You do?
JULIA: Of course. You’re the guy who is always wherever women gather or try to be alone. You want to eat with us when we’re dining in hotels, you want to know if the book we’re reading is any good, or if you can keep us company on the plane. And I want to thank you, Ray Don, on behalf of all the women in the world, for your unfailing attention and concern. But read my lips and remember, as hard as it is to believe, sometimes we like talking just to each other, and sometimes we like just being alone.
For me, the lesson at the end of this is TALK TO PEOPLE. Seriously. Just talk to all of the people. What can we learn about life if we only speak to people in our own circles; in our own demographic or neighborhoods? Speak to people of different races, different abilities, and people well outside of your economic class, both wealthier and poorer.
For god’s sake, don’t let TV, or internet, or media be your guide to understanding others. Don’t assume that ‘The L Word’ speaks for all LGBT people, any more than watching “The Wire” makes you an expert on people of color.
Maybe try it out. Look someone right in the eye today and say hello. If you don’t share a language, at least share a smile and if you know them well, make sure to ask “How’s your mama?”