The Talk to Strangers Project Begins…

What’s the opposite of a “people person”? A hermit? Misanthrope? Sociopath? I’m not a sociopath. I don’t torture cats or disfigure prostitutes. What I am is an average looking, 28-year-old guy, living in L.A., who just doesn’t like people.[singlepic id=3 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Face it. Most people are boring. The average person you meet has a boring job, a boring family, and a boring imagination. If you asked them what’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to them, you’d get a boring story about winning eight grand on a scratch-off lottery ticket or meeting Shaquille O’Neal in the airport one time.

And it’s not just boring people I don’t want to associate with. I also despise stupid people. Like my last girlfriend Amanda who believes that “everything happens for a reason.” And needy, low-self-esteem, TMI’ers who tell you in the first ten seconds of meeting about their ADD, sex addiction, and irritable bowel syndrome (these types are inextricably drawn to reality TV).

But the list doesn’t end there. I also hate: people with shifty eyes, people who Tweet, early adopters, people who refer to professional sports teams as “us” or “we,” people who drive Priuses, people who misuse the reflexive pronoun “myself,” sweaty people, people who talk about golf, reality stars, cat people, people who wear sports jerseys with athletes’ names on them, people who play Farmville, audiophiles, people who don’t signal, people who memorize baseball statistics, car guys, people who started playing poker recently, people who wait until the last minute to merge lanes, people whose mouths are open at rest, people who post links on my Facebook wall, frequent flyers, people who get really mad when their team loses, people who write novels or screenplays at Starbucks, and outdoorsmen.

By now you are thinking, This guy is a dick. What makes him so great to dump on practically every type of person in existence? Fuck him and his holier than thou attitude. To that point I can only respond by saying, “You’re right.” I’m not so special. I’m not better than all these people. Well, maybe I’m better than a lot of them, but I’m sure there are a lot of things about me that people hate, too.

After all, I always correct people’s grammar. I can’t help it. I could see why people might find that annoying. I especially hate when someone makes a grammatical error in the very process of trying to sound more grammatical, like when someone says, “Please return the questionnaire to either Jimmy or I.” That really bugs the shit out of me.

Look, there’s a lot of other things wrong with me which I’m sure I’ll get to in time. My point is, I’m no great prize either. That’s why lately I feel like things have been getting worse for me. People grow up assuming that life is just going to keep on getting better and better. More fun, more friends, more sex, more freedom. But since college, I have a lot fewer friends. I haven’t had a girlfriend in nine months. And my job… well, I’m an associate at an i-bank, and I can’t imagine that this is my career. I mean, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life? Look at spreadsheets all day?

But even more than that, for the first time in my life, I feel disconnected. Isolated. Alone.

I want more friends. I was pretty popular in high school. I’ve had hot girlfriends before. I’m capable of forming close relationships and my friends would probably describe me as not-at-all psychotic. So why can’t I meet new people? Different kinds of people. Expose myself to some new things I never even thought about before, like, I don’t know, bowling or something. I want to have hobbies. I used to like all different sorts of things but now I just watch TV every night or play PS3.

In high school, I used to be surrounded by people all the time. Every class was filled with a different cross section of my school. But now, I live in my little apartment by myself, go to work in my air-tight car, sit in my cubicle, and basically not interact with any human beings.

So I’m sitting here, home alone on a Friday night feeling sorry for myself, when it occurred to me. Maybe I don’t really hate people. Maybe I just need to get to know them better. When you’re five and you meet someone on the playground, you just say, “Hi, I’m so-and-so. You want to be my friend?” Why can’t it be that simple as adults?

The only problem is it’s pretty tough in L.A. to meet people. When you’re out of school, there’s no natural way to make those connections. And I’m certainly not the type who gets girls’ phone numbers in bars or walks into a cocktail party and  introduces myself to strangers.

But maybe I could be. Maybe I could be a people person if I tried. And maybe if I became a people person, things would change for me. Maybe things would get better. Maybe I wouldn’t be so bored. And negative. And lonely.

So I decided. I’m going to go on a journey of self-exploration. I’m going to talk to strangers. Maybe not everyone, but a lot of them. People I run into in my daily life. I’m not going on a road trip here. I’m just talking about meeting the dry cleaner guy so we know each others’ names. I’m going to write about it to chronicle my ups and downs. I’m going to keep it anonymous for now, because I don’t know where this project is going to go and the last thing I need is to get fired because someone at work finds out something weird about me.

But what I can tell you is that for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling optimistic. Like this just might be the best idea I ever had.

So that’s my plan. I am going to start talking to strangers.

Wish me luck.

Day One Off to a Rocky Start

Couldn’t sleep last night. I was really fired up by this new idea. This new approach to life. I kept imagining this totally different person who likes people and who people like in return. Like the guy who sits next to you on an airplane and by the end of the trip you’re invited to his family reunion.

So at first I was too excited to sleep, thinking about this new me and how much I liked the idea of him. [singlepic id=4 w=320 h=240 float=right]But then of course my mind shifted to the work involved in getting from here to there. How exactly am I going to pull this off? What am I going to say to all these people? So then I couldn’t sleep because I was getting nervous about the project. What if I fail?

One good thing about not sleeping all night was that I think I narrowed down the types of things to say to strangers–the ice breakers–to (1) compliments; (2) observations; and (3) small talk.

I figured who doesn’t like to hear something nice from a stranger? If someone passed me in the street and said, “Hey, nice shirt!” I’d probably be pretty happy. Or at least smile.

Observations would have to be contextual. Like if I was waiting in line at Subway, I could be like, “Whoa, look at that Jared poster. I wonder if he ever could have imagined that eating some turkey sandwiches would become his life’s career.” I have to try to avoid sounding like Seinfeld here, but I think I could pull it off.

Small talk is I think the backup plan if I can’t think of anything. People actually don’t mind talking about the weather. Too bad it’s always the same in L.A. or else I could be the guy who says, “Hot enough for you?”

Anyway, armed with a plan, or at least a few ideas, I called my friend Paul. (Didn’t mean to give you the impression that I have no friends in my last post. Paul and I went to high school together back east. We weren’t really friends back then, but we hang out sometimes now because, I don’t know, we went to high school together.)

Anyway, I needed to tell someone about the Project and so we met up for lunch at the R&D Cafe on Montana. I got there early but I didn’t have any change for the meter. I asked the hostess if I could get change and she told me to get it from the bartender.

I went over to the bartender who was only a couple feet away. She had already heard that I needed change so she just looked up at me and asked how much I needed.

But in that second that she looked up, I saw these piercing blue eyes. Not the dull slate-blue kind, but the bright, deep blue kind that look like crystals. Or gemstones.

I’m not saying that it was like I was suddenly staring at a supermodel. Or that I was transfixed or dazed. She was pretty but it’s not like she was a model or anything. I’m just saying she had really nice eyes.

So, fueled by my new approach to life, I made an instant executive decision to say something. You know, talk to strangers.

So I just said what I was thinking. I said, “Wow, you have really pretty eyes!”

Her reaction was not what I had hoped for. She just kind of looked away and muttered, “Uh, thanks.” Like I was creeping her out. She gave me the quarters and I left.

On the way back to the parking meter, I started to turn red, getting embarrassed. How had I screwed up on my very first attempt? My mind was racing. Am I actually a creepy guy? I was totally not hitting on her. I wasn’t trying to get her phone number or using some line. It was an honest reaction. An excited utterance. I was just trying to say something nice. How could she have taken it differently?

I got all self conscious. Like I’m not good enough looking to compliment a pretty girl.

I went back in, avoided the bartender, and sat down. When Paul showed up I explained the whole Project and how I totally failed on my very first sentence.

Then he said something that really made sense. His theory was that pretty girls get hit on all the time. People are always complimenting them. Especially hot bartenders whose job it is to constantly talk to guys. So complimenting her on the way she looks was the wrong thing to say.

If I had said, “Wow, you’re really good at juggling,” (in this scenario she’s juggling something) she would have been more receptive (at least according to Paul). In other words, it’s okay to compliment hot girls, but just not on their hotness.

It makes sense. It’s not like the hot girl did anything to be hot. And people like to be complimented on their actions or choices or cleverness, not their genes. I guess that’s why basketball players get annoyed if you say, “Wow, you’re really tall.”

So the lesson for today is: complimenting people is still a good and valid approach to talking to strangers. Even hot girls. But I have to be smarter and quicker or at least more observant to figure out what it is about this person that they actually had something to do with that’s worth complimenting.

Seems like a lot of work but I still think I’m up for the challenge.

P.S. Paul thinks the Project is a great idea.

Back to Work and Elevator Girl

It’s Monday and I’m back at work. I’m a little gun-shy after Miss Blue Eyes made me feel like a pervert. But I’m still committed to this.

I’m not going to describe my actual work because it’ll probably sound boring and then you’ll think I’m a hypocrite when I said everyone else is boring. [singlepic id=1 w=320 h=240 float=right]The key difference here is that I know my job sounds boring to most people (even though I actually enjoy it sometimes) so I don’t go around talking about it all day long. This is a skill that is highly underappreciated in our society called “gauging your audience’s interest.” If more people stopped talking for a second (or Tweeting, etc.) and looked up to gauge their audience’s interest, they’d notice that nobody cares about their big plans to watch the World Cup match or whether their friend Susan is really fake. In fact, if people were five percent better at responding to a lack of interest in what they’re saying, productivity in the office place would increase by eighty-three percent. I made up those numbers but you get the point: NOBODY CARES ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!

So, a new rule for the Project: no blogging about other trivial shit like my views on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Just gonna write about my experiences talking to strangers.

But I do need to give you a little info on where I work. It’s a high rise on Constellation in Century City. Every day I take an escalator from the garage to the lobby level then an elevator to the nineteenth floor. I probably go up the elevator with many of the same people every day but I never knew it because frankly I never really paid attention to who’s standing next to me in the elevator. Except this one really beautiful girl who gets off at some floor above mine.

The old me liked elevators because most people obey a certain protocol of willful ignoring. No one says anything because no one wants to talk to people in an elevator. It’s peaceful. I wish someone would change the protocol that says when you pass a co-worker walking the opposite direction in the hallway you have to say “hi.” It’s a stupid custom. It’s just a waste of time and doesn’t accomplish anything. Do you think Vulcans say hi to each other when they walk past each other on their space ships? It’s not logical. For some reason, elevators went the other way from hallways and people know to keep their mouths shut in elevators. Sometimes you get a chatty UPS guy or Water Delivery Man who addresses the whole elevator with a “How’s everyone doing today?” like he’s going to pass around a hat like a homeless guy on a New York subway, but nine times out of ten it’s quiet.

At least, that’s how I felt last week. Now that I’m a people person, I look for any and all opportunities to talk to strangers and this morning was looking like my lucky day. Hot elevator girl was in the same car as me. Now all I had to do was say something.

But I still haven’t figured out how to talk to pretty girls without being creepy. I waited for the three other people to get off and I couldn’t believe how lucky things worked out that it was just me and her for the next few seconds.

I had to say something quickly. By the way, as an aside, isn’t it weird how people in elevators automatically move to even out the empty space when someone gets off? Totally reflexive behavior but it always happens.

Anyway, so I’ve got about nine second before it goes to my floor and I’m scrambling for something to say. Don’t compliment her eyes. I know that for sure. Hair? Outfit? Shoes? Starting to sound like I’m gay.

Be more observant! When is she doing that I can notice and compliment?! Nothing! She’s just standing there.

Fifteen… sixteen… seventeen…

Backup plan! Small talk! The weather? It’s been kind of cool for July…


The door opened and I got out.


Totally chickened out. Didn’t say anything.

I think I was thrown by the whole trying-to-pick-her-up assumption. If I could get past that and just treat her as a person, not a hot girl, I could probably come up with something to say.

I don’t know. Maybe I should start off more slowly. Like not hot girls. I need to get some successes under my belt or I know I’m going to get disillusioned and give up.

Gotta go back to work. My project manager Kyle is hovering.

Bao Guy

Sorry, I had to work late.

Anyway, so we’ve been working hard on this big deal and I went over to the mall to grab lunch to go. I got a salad at Take a Bao and I got their plumberry iced tea. It’s really good.

I’m waiting for my salad but I’ve already got my tea and I’m thinking, “This guy doesn’t look busy. I should strike up a conversation with him.” Of course the key is to be casual, not too interested like I’m a psycho or trying to pick him up.

So I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how to break the ice when it hits me. It’s sitting right there in my hand.

“This tea is really good. But what’s a plumberry?”

Turns out, they get that question all the time and the answer is really uninteresting (it’s tea with a blend of plums and berries).

But I didn’t let that stop me. I mentioned that I took the last sweet & low packet and they need to refill it. Which suddenly jogged this memory in the back of my brain, and I don’t remember how I segued here, but all of the sudden I launched into this story about this dumb-ass girl from back when I was a paralegal in New York. [singlepic id=2 w=320 h=240 float=right]We’d go to lunch and she’d put like literally six packets of sugar in her tea. Of course, it would just sit on the bottom because of basic chemistry: Sugar doesn’t dissolve in cold water. I tried to explain it to her, that they make sweet tea by heating up the tea first, dissolving the sugar, and then cooling it. The supersaturated sugar stays in solution and the iced tea stays sweet. It’s straight out of high school chemistry. But she would just say she likes it that way and dump a pound of sugar into the already-cold iced tea. You could literally see it sitting there on the bottom taking up an inch of the glass.

So the Bao Guy thought that was a funny story. I found out he was an actor. We didn’t trade info or anything. I didn’t even get his name. My salad came out and that basically put an end to the conversation. I took the bag and all I said was, “Have a good day.”

Still, on the walk back to Constellation, I felt awesome. I felt like a people person. Are me and Bao Guy gonna be BFF’s? Not too likely. But that’s not the point. I talked to a stranger. I made a connection. And for such a small fucking thing, for the rest of the day I had a huge smile on my face.

Mailbox Guy

Near miss tonight meeting the guy whose mailbox is next to mine at my apartment complex. I’ve seen him dozens of times and yet it never occurred to me till now to talk to him. [singlepic id=5 w=320 h=240 float=right]He’s a little older, maybe mid-thirties, kind of a surfer dude with long hair, and I think he lives with a woman because I always see them together.  Anyway, he must live in my building because that’s how the mailboxes are arranged.

Didn’t happen tonight because just as I was going in with a comment about that World Cup octopus, he got his mail and took off. So it would have been awkward to be like, “Wait, dude. Hold up. I want to pretend to like sports with you!”

It’s weird when I think about it. I live in this huge apartment complex in Brentwood–there must be a few hundred apartments here–and I’ve lived here for two years, yet the number of neighbors I know is exactly zero.

Makes me excited to start changing that.

I Need a Girlfriend

It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting here watching the fucking “Transporter” on Spike. I checked in with Paul, he’s going to some party and didn’t exactly say, “Hey, come along.” I sometimes hang out with my friend Neil at work but it’s usually just with a bunch of work people. [singlepic id=6 w=320 h=240 float=right]I know a few more people obviously but it’s not like I am entertaining offers here.

What’s wrong with me? I am an interesting guy. I’ve been told by girls that I’m good looking. I’m not fat or bald or weird. I make good money. I live in a decent apartment in a cool neighborhood. So why am I sitting home alone 9 out of 10 weekends?

I feel like this whole Project is a good idea in theory but in practice, it’s feeling more like a so-what. Yay, I talked to the dude at the mall. Ooh, gee, how is my life going to change if I talk about the weather to the old lady in the Pinkberry.

It was so much easier when I was in school. In high school, duh, the girls are just throwing themselves at you. And in college, there’s classes, activities, parties… I mean, the whole place is set up for meeting people. But no one tells you when you get out, you’re on your own.

Looking back on it, I feel kind of dumb for wanting to graduate so badly to go out and be independent. You know what? Being independent sucks.

I met Amanda through Paul’s sister. Maybe I should ask him if she’ll set me up. I don’t know. I just don’t want to be some loser on awkward dates I met on

I need to get over the fear of talking to hot girls. Who knew the Blue Eyes incident would have such lasting trauma. I mean, it’s not like I am going to pick up girls in bars, but I think I should be able to talk to cute girls without being creepy. I’ve got some degree of game, don’t I? It’s not like I want a girlfriend who likes the guy from a dumb movie who has some sort of line that’s so cool it’s not even considered a line. Whatever, I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. I just need to stop being a complete fucking pussy and talk to some girls who might turn into something more significant.

It’s not like I’m just saying this because I’m horny. I mean, yes, I could use some lovin’, and I know this is going to sound sappy, but I really just want someone to hang out with. Some companionship. I guess I’m just lonely.

The Cop

Okay, so check this out. I’m grabbing lunch at Baja Fresh on San Vicente and I see a cop having lunch by himself. He’s in uniform and all but he’s eating alone. So I go up to him and I say, “Hey, don’t mean to bother you while you’re eating, I just wanted to say I really appreciate what you do.”

He looks up at me with a big mouth full of Dos Manos burrito and says, “Excuse me?”[singlepic id=8 w=320 h=240 float=right]

I explain, “I’m just saying I appreciate you putting yourself out there every day to keep people like me safe. I just thought you might like to hear what people are thinking.”

And then he says, and here’s the twist, ready for it?…

“Can I see some I.D.?”

Seriously. Can I see some I.D.

Like I’d have to be on crystal meth to say something nice to a cop. No wonder everyone hates cops.

Mailbox Guy Has a Name

It’s Gunther. Seriously. Here’s how the conversation went down:

“Hey, you’re in 302, right?”[singlepic id=7 w=320 h=240 float=right]


“Yeah, I’ve seen you around. What’s your name?”


“Fletcher.” [ed. note: I have decided it’s okay to reveal my first name. Hi. I’m Fletcher.]

We shook hands. It was cool. But I needed more.

“You know, we should hang out some time. I mean, as friends. You know, ’cause we’re neighbors.”

I started losing my nerve. Maybe because I couldn’t read him I just kind of assumed this wasn’t going well and I got nervous. I literally blurted out: “I’m not gay. This is not a homosexual thing. I just meant two dudes drinking beers or whatever.”

I was turning red. I added, “It could be wine.”

But as you probably guessed, my fears were unfounded. Just me being neurotic. He was totally cool. He said, “Yeah, cool. We should totally hang out.”

Now I don’t know if that’s just someone being polite–like, what’s he going to say? “Sorry, not interested.”–or he was being sincere. I’ll only know for sure when we actually hang out.