Hello Again

It’s been a year, so I thought I’d drop a line to all you strangers out there. First of all, Michelle and I are about to celebrate our first anniversary next week. And second, Michelle’s due date is a week later. So yeah, we’ve been busy.

Looking back on the year, all I can really say is I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I feel this is the life I always wanted and sometimes when I wake up I have to remind myself that it’s real. I never intended this blog to be so touchy-feely with all the self-help platitudes but then again I never expected anything to really change. But now I can say that I am the biggest advocate in the world for taking control of your own life. It’s as simple as making a list of the things you wish you could change and then coming up with some ideas to fix them. Maybe the solutions don’t work but just trying to make a change is sometimes good enough to have an impact on your life is surprisingly positive ways.

I’m still not a hundred percent happy at work. I went back into banking after I lost my job because that’s all I really knew how to do. Now I feel an obligation to earn money to support the family, so even though it’s not any more fulfilling, I am less upset by it. Maybe one day I’ll pursue my real passion and become a professional pole vaulter– just kidding. That’s just it. A lot of people I talk to don’t like their jobs but they don’t know what else to do.

Gunther is still at it with the eBay trading. He never did get back together with Monica but who am I to judge? You never know what a relationship is like for real until you’re in it.

I still talk to strangers. Almost every day. It gets harder because most of the people I run into on a given day aren’t strangers anymore. I pretty much know everyone at the Whole Foods, the dry cleaners, the gas station, etc. Still, I run into people at my office building, or in lines, and I almost always strike up a conversation. I know there’s a lot of people in L.A. but it seems like I’ve talked to most of them. Maybe the next time you’re in line at Take a Bao, I’ll be behind you asking if you’ve seen any good movies.

That’s all for now. If there’s something I forgot to update you on, just post a question and I’ll respond.

Until next year…

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.

Gunther’s Girlfriend

Gunther invited me and Michelle over last night to meet his new girlfriend.

We were more than a little surprised to find out that Marta was nineteen. Gunther is probably in his early forties and God knows how he gets these women, but we found the whole thing to be pretty strange.

Marta is a freshman at Loyola. She is studying communications but she said she would really love to be “a TV personality.” Who says that? I mean, she didn’t say “actress,” she said “TV personality.” It reminded me of that stripper that the Michael Jackson doctor is dating who said her body is her “instrument.”

It’s weird how as a heterosexual male, I could find such a hot girl so annoying. Every time she said something stupid–like how she loves “being a good role model for teens”–I looked over at Gunther. He was definitely not blinded by his deep love for Marta. He knew she was an idiot. He had this smile on his face like a dirty old man, like “What can I do?”

Michelle wound up talking to Marta alone for a while while I went to the store with Gunther to pick up more beer. Gunther basically admitted that he couldn’t help himself and that he finds her “naive world-view refreshing.”

Later that night, Michelle told me that Marta told her she “always dates older guys” because they’re “better in bed.” Michelle said, “Yeah, just don’t get carried away, it’s kind of a bell curve.”

And Marta said, “A what curve?”

Another Poker Douche

Gunther invited me to a poker game at his place last night.

Normally I’m not much of a poker player but I’ve been feeling down lately, like I’ve lost some of my talk-to-strangers mojo, so I thought it would be good for me even if I lost my fifty dollar buy-in.

When I sat down, I knew Gunther and his sidekick Gordo. The other four guys I didn’t know. So in between lulls in the play I asked questions, mostly stuff like, “How do you know Gunther?”

That in itself is always a good one since Gunther doesn’t have a real job and knows people in the weirdest ways. One guy literally said, “Skydiving camp.”

One of the guys was a heavy-set douche with a beard who not only won a lot of hands, but told everyone what they did wrong to lead to their loss. (This is the second time I’ve played poker this year and that table had a poker douche, too. What’s up with that?) Everyone seemed to know him and his douchey quality and they just ridiculed him mercilessly, like “Hey, maybe if you spent less time reading poker books you might get laid this year.”

I did not enjoy listening to him tell me how many outs I had or what my pot odds were. So when he went after me one too many times after I lost a big pot, I said, “Jesus, man. Do you have Aspergers or something? Can’t you just tell when people have had enough of your little ‘helpful’ comments?!”

The table went kind of silent. Then the guy said, “Yeah, I do have Aspergers. Sorry if I upset you.”

Shit. I turned totally red. Obviously everyone else knew this but me. Thanks for the head’s up, guys!

At the end of the night, I apologized and said I didn’t know. He apologized, too. And then a weird thing happened. He said Gunther told him about my project, and was wondering if I could tell him about it so maybe he could get better at meeting people.

So it just goes to show you, that for every poker douche out there, there’s some actual mental disorder (or trauma) causing it. I think I’m going to help this guy.

The Talk to Strangers Project, One Year Later

I started this project exactly one year ago. To say it’s changed my life would be as obvious as the preceding sentence, given the title of the post. On a quantitative level:

  • I have talked to maybe 200-300 strangers;
  • I have had three girlfriends (Chloe, Jennifer, and Marny);
  • I have gone on dates with at least three other women;
  • I have gone to several parties (more than five, less than ten);
  • I have been beaten up one time;
  • I have been rejected by dozens of people who didn’t want to talk to me (and not all of them were waitresses);
  • I have one dog.

On a qualitative level, I am more observant. I’m a better listener. I am more empathetic. I am far more confident. I am not afraid of talking to people in authority, people at parties, and people just standing there minding their own business. Maybe in the back of my head, the idea that it’s all part of “The Project” gives me the courage to break the societal taboos and initiate first contact. Whatever the reason, I am better able to shrug off missteps and focus on the connections.

I never knew how hard it would be to make friends after college. That being around so many people in a large city like Los Angeles could be so lonely. It makes me sad when I think about all the other people out there feeling the same way that I was, but doing nothing about it. Just sitting in their apartments, hoping someone is going to knock on their door to borrow some sugar. That only happens in 1950’s sitcoms. No one really knocks on anyone’s door. You have to knock on theirs.

Having a “family” of friends is so important. I mean, it’s not like I go cry on Gunther’s couch while we do each other’s nails. But just having someone who knows me makes me feel like I’m part of the world, not watching it from the outside.

Do I wish I had more friends? Sure. Do I wish they were as close as say my friends growing up? Of course. People in the 20’s and 30’s have shit going on and you can’t spend an hour every day in study hall going over the day’s events.

Relationships-wise, I can’t tell you how much it means to be dating again. For a while, my self-esteem was so low, I was starting to question how I had ever had a girlfriend in the past. It’s just hard meeting people. And like I said, inertia is your enemy. I could easily imagine ten years slipping by and being even more lonely and bitter.

It’s not like I’ve made a love connection. I mean, things are going well with Chloe, but she’s such a sweet girl, I wonder sometimes if there’s ever going to be something more… explosive about our relationship. Maybe it’s my pining away for Michelle that makes me unable to see Chloe as a keeper. She’s certainly a lot better than Marny and Jennifer. But even those limited relationships were invaluable in building up my self-esteem and making me feel like a legitimate contender for love.

Besides the connections I’ve made–personal, casual, romantic–I think the most important thing that’s happened over the last year is that I like who I’ve become. I knew this me was in there somewhere and I like that it’s taken over. I’m funnier now. I’m not afraid of saying the wrong thing because I don’t over-value people. I’m not saying I don’t value people, I just value them accurately. I feel like I used to be on eggshells all the time hoping I didn’t annoy or piss off a friend or a girlfriend and lose them forever. Ironically, I’m more likely to speak my mind to people now and I think they like me better for it.

Anyway, it’s not like I’ve achieved some sort of goal. There’s still a lot of work to go. But I am starting to think of my life in interview terms: where do I see myself in five years? In ten? Before, I was in survival mode: How do I cure my debilitating loneliness and get some goddamn people in my life? Now, I feel like I’m out of the woods and I can start to think about where I want to go.

Thanks to all the people who I’ve met over the last year. And thank you to all the wonderful people who’ve written to me, telling me their stories. I feel like I’ve met you, too.

Stay tuned, there’s still a lot of strangers left to talk to.

 

Grill Man

We’ve all met know-it-all’s before. But there’s a very special kind of know-it-all that you meet only at barbecues: the Grill Man.

So this past weekend, at Gunther’s Fourth of July barbecue, I had the privilege of meeting Chuck, Gunther’s Grill Man.

The first thing a Grill Man will tell you is that gas is for pussies. Grill Men only use charcoal, presumably because it’s a lot harder to ignite. That means Grill Men get to use a lot of lighter fluid. Not like in a Simpsons episode where you cut away to a super-wide shot and see a mushroom cloud, but still, it’s a lot of fire.

Upon meeting Chuck, I was presented with two choices, antagonize him, or play along. I chose not to argue with Chuck, because even though he might not know as much as he thinks, he still knows more than me. What I found is that a Grill Man likes nothing more than to educate you. So I played dumb.

“Wow, cool grill. Did you get this at Sears?”

The Grill Man looks at me contemptuously. “This is a Weber blah blah blah, the blah blah blah best grill ever made.” [I’m sorry if I don’t remember the details.]

“I heard gas grills are better.”

Ten minutes later when he’s done explaining why I’m wrong, I ask, “So let me ask you, Chuck. You seem to know a lot about grilling. What’s the best way to grill a steak?” His eyes lit up.

Ten minutes later, I asked, “Can you cook vegetables on a grill?”

At this point, Chloe caught on that I was just asking dumb questions so he could talk endlessly. And it’s not like I was making fun of him. I was just letting him do what he enjoyed doing, talking about stuff he knows.

Some of my other questions:

  • “I bet chicken is tricky, though. How do you keep it moist?”
  • “Do you use those cedar chip things?”
  • “Is this safe to use indoors?”
  • “What’s the best cut of beef?”
  • “How hot can this grill get anyway?”
  • “Do you have any opinions about the best knives?”

Chloe got bored early on and left to talk to some other people. But something about talking to the Grill Man was weird. After a while, I almost liked hearing the sound of his voice. Maybe it was the Stockholm Syndrome, but I was falling in love with the Grill Man.

Commissioner Gordo

Gunther came by last night with that nut-job Gordo. Apparently, their GPS-enabled sneakers found a backer.

Seriously. Some moron gave these two idiots half a million dollars to go into production. (If you don’t remember the idea, it’s to put GPS tracking devices in sneakers that are linked to Twitter or Facebook so when you turn it on, everyone knows exactly where you are all the time.) They are calling the shoes “Trakkers.”

Initially I thought, “Why would anyone want to be tracked? Why would anyone want the world to know where they are every second of the day? Don’t people value privacy?”

Then I remembered that no, no one wants privacy anymore. Everyone wants the exact opposite: fame. We are becoming so narcissistic as a society with useless status updates and tweets that of course we want people to know where we are. How else would all our “friends,” “fans,” and “followers” stay in touch with our every inane thought and move?

I know I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be said again: Most people have little if anything interesting going on in their lives. Not everyone can be a celebrity. Not everyone deserves an audience.

Maybe this is hypocritical. After all, I’m writing this blog, aren’t I? Is the implication, “You have nothing worthwhile to say but I do”?

I guess the difference is, I only post my interactions with strangers (and some updates on my love life) when they are interesting and on topic. I don’t post “Go Bruins!” or “I hate my boss!” And I don’t tell you where I am all day long!

So long story short, I will not be buying Trakkers. Will you?

Gordian Knot

That guy Gordo keeps emailing me asking if there’s any jobs at my bank.

I’m the kind of guy who responds to every email (excluding junk) but these ones I just deleted. Then, last night he calls me on my cell. (Thanks, Gunther!)

I was dreading taking the call, but I figured he’d just keep bothering me, so I answered. I said, “Yeah, hey, I checked around and we’re not hiring.”

But he was like, “Oh, don’t worry about that. That’s not why I’m calling.”

Turns out, he wants to talk to me about a business idea he has. I really, really didn’t want to hear it but guess what? He was calling from Gunther’s place, so before I knew it, he and Gunther were in my place pitching their idea.

The idea is stupid as you might have guessed but I still don’t want to publicly describe it in case some other idiot wants to invest. Suffice to say, it has to tracking devices, Twitter, and a certain item of clothing.

Now that I think about it, I’m fairly certain no one will ever want to pursue this, so let’s just be clear what we’re dealing with: GPS-enabled sneakers that automatically link to your Twitter account. The idea is that you can track celebrities who want to be tracked via Twitter. Not sure why anyone would want to wear these, but if any readers are interested I can pass on your info. They’re looking for $500,000 “seed” money.

This is not an April Fools joke.

Goodbye, My Love

Gunther came by last night to pick up Ms. Pac Man. He brought some sketchy dude named “Gordo,” which I assumed meant his name was Gordon, but he said it didn’t and I didn’t pursue it any further.

I was really getting into the idea of being a guy with a giant video game in his apartment. Jennifer obviously liked it, so I can only assume it would be popular with most ladies. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s Ms. Pac Man after all. An icon of the women’s rights movement.

I realize of course that I could have just bought it from Gunther. In fact, I wondered whether that was his plan all along. But it’s a little frivolous to spend your money on shit like that and it did take up a lot of space. So tonight I helped the two of them move it out and into a shipping crate.

By the way, this guy Gordo, he’s a real weirdo. Apparently he does “odd jobs” for Gunther and other people he knows. But he didn’t say “odd jobs” like the phrase it usually said, like with equal emphasis on “odd” and “jobs.” He said it like, “ODD jobs,” like not miscellaneous, but actually odd.

I was like, “Oh really, what kind of ODD jobs do you do?”

He said he once drove a “friend’s” car into the dessert and abandoned it there. Then he had a different friend come pick him up. (He didn’t think to have the friend drive out there with him in the first place. Instead, he waited four hours by the side of the road.)

I asked him what was in the car. He said that information was “beyond his pay grade.”

I told him that he could have been charged as an accessory if he was concealing something illegal, like say, a dead body.

He replied triumphantly, “Yeah, and that’s why they paid me forty-five bucks!”

Well played, sir.