Neighbor Peter

I for one am glad the Oscars are over. It’s so hard not being in the main industry of your city.

If I worked in New York, I’d feel right at home in banking, but here in L.A. all anyone talks about is the entertainment business. And as you can tell from previous posts, I have issues with celebrity culture and narcissistic behavior. So I look forward to the Oscars being over every year so the decibel level can return to normal.

On to talking to strangers. I have a new next door neighbor. I never really spoke to the previous occupant of the apartment next to me, even though we sort of share a balcony. So when that guy moved out, I decided to make a friends with the new neighbor.

This weekend, the movers came and a dude named Peter moved in. He’s a little younger than me and works for Verizon (in corporate sales, not the cell phone store). Anyway, I came up with a plan and here’s how it went down.

Side note first. A lot of my ideas would never work without a girlfriend (or fiancée) at my side. It would just be too weird to be a single guy doing some of the shit I do because women generally think I’m trying to hit on them and guys think I’m gay. So having a girl there makes everything so much easier. You’ll see what I mean when you hear what I did.

I waited till the moving trucks left then knocked on the door with Michelle. Peter opened it.

I said, “Hi, I’m Fletcher, your next door neighbor. We share a balcony. This is my fiancée Michelle. So anyway, we wanted to welcome you to the apartment complex and make you feel at home.”

He looked down, a little confused. He asked, “Is that for me?”

I smiled. “Yup. We baked you a cake.”

It’s true. We totally baked this dude a cake. It was so worth it just to see the look on his face. Like, what the hell kind of apartment complex is this?

After he got over the initial shock, he invited us in and we chatted for a little while. I gave him pointers on where things are in the neighborhood (he moved from West Hollywood) and gave him my number. Oh, and he cut the cake so we all had some.

Anyway, that’s about it. We left, went back home, and watched the stupid Oscars.

Venus/Mars

I went to Ralphs with Michelle on Sunday. Just a normal grocery shopping excursion but Michelle was hungry so she ate a thing of sushi as we shopped.

We got to the checkout line and we placed the empty container on the conveyer belt along with all the food so we could pay for it. When it got to the checkout guy, he rang it up, but then he asked, “Should I throw this out or do you want it?”

I thought it was a weird question but it turns out, there was one piece of sushi left in the container. He showed it to me. I turned to Michelle and asked her if we were supposed to keep it. She said no, throw it out.

I looked at the checkout guy and said, “Now there’s a perfect example of how men and women are different. No man would ever in a million years leave one piece of sushi.”

Michelle defended herself, “I’m full.”

“So what?” I said, “It’s one little piece.”

The checkout guy took my side, saying “He’s right. Guys will finish anything you put in front of them as long as it’s good.”

Then the bagger girl got into the argument. “If she’s full, she’s full. Leave her alone.”

This went on for a while as they continued ringing me up and bagging my groceries. It was a pretty lively conversation.

Oh, and toward the end of the bagging, the girl took my pile of fourteen Slim Jims and waved them to the bagger girl in the next aisle and said, “Look how many Slim Jims this guy is buying!”

Post Office Nazi

I had to mail some documents back to my parents in Pennsylvania so I went to the post office on Barrington. As I waited in line, I noticed a couple of things. First of all, almost all the employees were older Asian women. I have no idea what that is the case but it’s absolutely true.

One of the postal workers was giving a woman customer a hard time. She was yelling, “No! Not this one. This one! Stand over here! You’re holding up the line.” Apparently, the woman had filled out the wrong form and now she had to do it all over again.

I turned to the guy behind me, an average looking dude my age. “I hope I didn’t fill out the wrong form.”

He laughed and did a Soup Nazi imitation: “No mail for you. One year!”

This went on for a while as we moved up in the line. We were having a good laugh at this women who was bossing everyone around.

Then it was my turn and sure enough I got the Post Office Nazi. I put on a fake smile and started to launch into what I needed.

But she interrupted me. “Everything goes smoother if everyone follows the rules.”

Oh, shit. Had she overheard our conversation? I played dumb. “Yes, that’s definitely true.”

“If you don’t know something, you ask. Don’t hold up the line with the wrong form.”

She definitely knew we were making fun of her. I said, “Well, maybe sometimes people don’t ask because they’re scared of the person who has the information they need.”

She furled a brow. “Who’s scared?! There’s no one scared here.”

I pointed at the guy behind me in line I’d been joking with. I said, “He’s scared.”

I fully expected the guy to have my back here. But instead, he totally denied everything! He said, “I’m not scared. I don’t even know this guy.”

Back-stabbing jerk. I felt betrayed. So I just said, “Whatever, can I just mail this?”

She rang up the postage, I paid, then I turned to leave. But she stopped me with, “No mail for you. One year!”

I looked back and saw she was smiling. Clearly a joke. I smiled.

Valentine’s Day Redux

Here’s what I had to say about Valentine’s Day last year: http://talktostrangersblog.com/?p=651. This year Michelle and I are going out to Rustic Canyon for dinner and I actually paid attention to all those flower commercials so I could buy the best ones. So, yeah, a year makes a difference.

I know what it’s like to have a shitty Valentine’s Day because not only do you not have someone in your life but there are no prospects for the future. It’s the hopelessness that really hurts. If I honestly thought, “Bad luck, Valentine’s Day fell this year between past and future girlfriends,” it wouldn’t be that big a deal. I’d just hang out with friends or go to a strip club or something. But wondering how could a potential girlfriend even exist–where would she even come from?–that’s the stuff of real depression.

Well, here’s my pep talk. First of all, just because you can’t see happiness around the bend doesn’t mean it’s not there. And second, you can take control of your life. You can get out there and meet people. I did it. I get a lot of emails from people who say they want to meet people but they’re just too shy. Well, unless you have a note from your doctor saying you have a social anxiety disorder, then I call bullshit. Being scared is no excuse. Overcoming fears is one of the things we do as grown-ups.

Buy a book on how to mingle. Read the news of the weird right before you go out so you have a few things to talk about. Or just listen and react to what people are saying. But to quote the Pennsylvania State Lottery Commission, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

Unrequited Bromance

I went to Whole Foods on Sunday mostly to buy food but also to see Astrid.

I wanted to hang out with Cesar again, because he seemed cool and smart and I wanted to be his friend. But how do you go about saying that to another dude? I figured I would ask his girlfriend to set it up. But a weird thing happened when I brought it up.

I waited in her checkout line and when it was my turn, I said, “Hey, hope you had a good time at the party.”

She said, “Totally. It was so cool of you to invite all those people.”

I said, “I really liked your friend Cesar. He’s one funny dude.”

She said, “Yeah, I saw you guys talking.”

I tried to be nonchalant when I said, “We should hang out some time.”

Then she looked at me kind of weird. She said, “Like all three of us?”

I was like, “Sure. It could be a group thing. Or just me and him. Like guys night out or something. Either way.”

For some reason this didn’t come out right in her mind. She just looked at me.

So I said, “So can I get his info?”

Astrid said, “Why don’t you give me your info and I’ll pass it along to him.”

I was confused. Not sure how I made this weird but apparently I had. I just said, “Sure, whatever’s easier.” I wrote down my email on the receipt and gave it to her.

I walked out with my lemon chicken wondering what she thought I really wanted.

On Transcending

Sue D. writes:

I’m enjoying your blog. I think meeting and talking with strangers is such a great idea! It’s lead to so many interesting encounters for you. I wonder if you consider your experiment a success, or if you even consider it an experiment anymore? It seems like you’ve transcended the original purpose for your blog and now it’s become just another part of your every day life.

That was an interesting question, one I’ve been thinking about for a few days now. And the answer is kind of complicated.

Yes, talking to strangers is second-nature in some ways now. When I go up to a counter and order a roast beef sandwich, I don’t have to remind myself that I should strike up a conversation. But one thing I’ve learned is I am who I am. Despite the now long history of doing this, I still don’t talk to strangers without effort. The second-nature aspect of it is that I don’t think about that I should be talking to them. It doesn’t get my all the way to actually doing it without thinking about it. So I guess, the point is, I’ve got a lot of practice but there’s a built-in inertia that must be overcome every time.

I do consider the experiment a success. Obviously, things turned out better than I ever imagined. It’s literally changed my life and I am happier than I’ve ever been. And maybe you’re right that it’s not even an experiment anymore anyway. It’s just something I do. Like, if you go on a diet where you cut out carbs, for example, and it’s successful. You lose the weight. You reach your target. But it’s changed your eating habits along the way and now you just eat healthier meals and stay away from carbs because you know they aren’t good for you. It’s no longer a diet because you’re not trying to lose weight anymore. Now, you’ve adopted a different lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean when you see a sticky bun you don’t crave it.

It’s weird. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I get into a meta-mode where I’m talking to someone just thinking about how I’m going to write this up later. It seems a little inauthentic at times, like I’m violating the spirit of the project. But ultimately, talking to strangers is talking to strangers. Mostly I don’t think too much about it. Some days I pass on opportunities. But I think I will continue the “experiment” forever. Partly just because I like being that person. But I have to admit–and I’m as far from superstitious as you get–part of me wants to keep it up so I don’t jinx myself and lose what I’ve attained.

 

Frappe

Okay, so I’m obsessed with this guy Cesar. It’s like he’s given me the red pill and now I realize I’ve been living in the Matrix. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you think your appliances are doing something smart only to learn that they’re really dumb, it kind of shakes your world.

The classic example is the blender. Someone figured out a long time ago that people would buy more blenders if they thought the blenders were smarter. So instead of power level 1-10 to indicate the actual function–changing the power (and hence the blade speed) from 10% to 100%–someone decided to name the settings:

1-Fold
2-Stir
3-Mix
4-Blend
5-Combine
6-Beat
7-Cream
8-Fluff
9-Frappe
10-Whip

Now of course these words are all synonyms more or less for the same basic thing and it’s actually far less accurate than power level 1-10, but lo and behold, as soon as they changed the name of the setting, they started selling more blenders. It all boils down to this: People just liked to think that their blenders “knew” what they were blending. And so an industry was born.

Here’s some appliance settings that I thought did something intelligent and here’s what Cesar says they really do:

Function What I thought it did What it really does
Sanitize/sterilize Filters out bacteria Uses hotter water
Defrost (microwave) Targets water molecules Lowers power level
Defrost (toaster) Heats from the inside out Lowers power, extends time
Recirculate air Purifies air and pumps it back out Closes outside vent
Large load Recalibrates weight sensors for even spin Lowers spin speed
Pots and pans Special jets target the bottom of the pot Wash cycle runs longer
Convection cook Turns on a cyclone Turns on a little fan
Reheat (toaster) Cooks from the inside out Turns power very low
Delicate Gently tumbles clothes Lowers temperature
Crystal/china Buffs and shines glasses and plates Lowers temperature

There are lots of other examples but I can’t write about them right now. I have to go frappe a smoothie with Cesar.

 

Post-Game Wrap-Up

First of all, the game was pretty exciting. I didn’t mind watching at all, though I couldn’t care less who won. No one at the party was a super-fan so we didn’t have any problems with guys in face-paint going berserk when some dude dropped the ball.

Twenty-two guests showed up. Scott, Gunther, Gordo, Polly, and some other obvious candidates, plus the dry cleaner Ramon and believe it or not, letter carrier Hung. The Whole Foods contingent came en masse, and the fun thing was, a lot of people brought a friend or two, so there were new people to meet.

One of the best things about the party was that it was such a weird mix of people that practically no one (besides me) knew more than a small percentage. So everyone was meeting a lot of new people. But hands down, my favorite new person is Astrid the check-out girl’s boyfriend Cesar. He works in marketing, but mostly for appliance manufacturers. His job is to “humanize” appliances by making boring features seem more intelligent. Example: He pointed to my toaster oven. It had a setting called, “Bagel.” He asked me, “What do you think that does?”

I had never really thought about it, but I did use it every time I want to toast a bagel. I said, “I don’t know, some kind of sensor makes the toaster heat penetrate a thicker dough of a bagel?”

He said, “That’s what I do. I make you think the toaster is smart. ‘Bagel’ setting increases the toast time by 10%. That’s it.”*

Turns out, there are only two things that are adjustable on the toast setting. Power and time. You can make the power go from 10% to 100% and you can adjust the time it toasts. That’s it. Putting a button on the front that says “Belgian Waffles” doesn’t change the fact that there’s only those two variables.

I love this guy.**

Anyway, the party was a big hit. Everyone had fun. It was good seeing Scott again. And Gunther even got along with his ex Monica. (I should have mentioned that things didn’t work out with 19-year-old aspiring TV personality Marta. It didn’t long. I think they broke up in December.) I’m not sure, but I think Gunther and Monica may have left together. So maybe if that’s back on, I can add matchmaker to my resume.

* Bagel setting also makes only the top element heat because it assumes you sliced your bagel and placed both sides face up, unlike the normal toast setting which toasts on both the upper and lower element simultaneously. But I already knew that part.

** I will post another entry about the rest of our conversation. I just love it when I learn something that never occurred to me but is so obvious when someone tells you.

Gathering the Troops

This week has been fun trying to invite people to my Superbowl party. The first and only rule is: no emails as it kind of defeats the whole purpose.

I don’t have a Rolodex of everyone I’ve met in the last 18 months but that’s okay. It’s an excuse to track people down and talk to them.

So first, I called the people I know well enough to have phone numbers for. Gunther obviously. And his stupid friend Gordo. I also called Monica but she wasn’t home and I left a message. I called Scott and we caught up for a bit. He’s been auditioning a lot and has a new girlfriend. I invited people from work like Janet, but not Neil and Kyle because they’re just co-workers not strangers I talk to.

I ran into Polly and she’s coming. And my new friend Luke from the pet store.

Tracking down the rest has been a challenge. I left a note for Maria the cleaning lady but I’d be surprised if she showed up. I also left a note for letter carrier Hung and Pedro the newspaper guy.

But I visited Ramon the dry cleaner in person. He was actually very helpful in explaining who was playing and the backstory for the game. I also invited the Cheese Guy and Check-out Girl in person because I was Whole Foods anyway and it was easy. The check-out girl (with the nose ring) is named Astrid and I made sure to invite her in front of Michelle so she didn’t think I was asking her out. She asked if she could bring a friend and I said the more the merrier.

All in all, I invited a couple dozen people and I have no idea how many will actually show up. But I’m buying a lot of beer and a couple party subs from Bay Cities so hopefully it will be a decent turnout.