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.

 

Three Strikes

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve come such a long way being able to talk to strangers that I’ve almost perfected the art.

Such hubris always presages the fall and sure enough I bit it big time Saturday night.

I actually went to a party at Scott’s new place (we’re friends again). I went alone, which would have been really weird a year ago, but now my experience talking to people has made me so much more comfortable going places alone. Anyway, I was having a pretty good time catching up with Scott and meeting some of his friends. Then I decided that it was time to talk to women.

I haven’t spoken to Jennifer since last weekend but in my mind I feel like that is totally over. And though I did have lunch with Michelle on Friday, she’s still seeing that loser, so I felt like I had the green light to try to meet someone new.

I had noticed a cute girl with long blond hair. I waited for her to stop talking to her friend then I went up to her. I said, “Hi. I’m Fletcher.” Usually that’s about as much as I say in these situations. Any more and it seems like a line, or material, or just rehearsed. Not natural = lame. Anyway, she said her name was Kylie.

I asked her how she knew Scott. She said she didn’t, she knew Charlie, that actor guy who hooked up with the waitress from Q’s in the bathroom. Anyway, Kylie and I talked for a while. (Some people have written in asking how these conversation go, or more specifically, how they get started, and that’s about it. Hi. How do you know X? Not very complicated, but that’s what’s so non-threatening about it.)

I had talked to Kylie for about forty minutes when I asked if she’d like to go out some time. She smiles and says, “Sorry, you seem nice, but you’re not my type.” I laughed, “What’s your type?” and she said, “Don’t take it personally. I just usually go for like really good looking guys.”

I stopped smiling. “Oh. Okay, well, nice talking to you.” She actually tried to apologize for how that came out, but I said it was fine. But when I went back to get another drink, I was really upset. What an ego crusher!

I was ruined for the rest of the night. I tried to talk to two other girls but everything came out wrong. Awkward. Desperate. One of them said, “I’m here with someone” thirty seconds into the conversation. The other said, “I’m getting a drink, I’ll be right back,” and never came back.

Now maybe if I were a really good looking guy…

Rocker Slut

So I went to hear Jennifer’s band play again Friday night. They sucked worse than before but I put up with it for obvious reasons.

Then, after the show, I went backstage and there was Jennifer making out with some dude.

Needless to say I was pretty stunned. I mean, we’ve only been going out for a few weeks, and it’s not like we’re exclusive or anything, but I did expect that we’d be exclusive on the nights we were on a date!

The oddest and most whack-job thing was her reaction. She did stop making out with the guy, but then she just said, “Oh, hey, this is Rob,” like they were caught in the middle of doing her taxes. (Rob, it turns out, is the bass player, who I later learned Jennifer “sometimes hooks up with.”) I was just so stunned I actually shook his hand.

After I came to my senses, I told Jennifer I was taking off. I drove home planning on never talking to her again. We didn’t talk on Saturday but then she called me on Sunday and said, “What happened to you? Why did you take off like that?” But she did finally show some sense of reality when she added, “Are you mad at me or something?”

I explained that making out with Rob was not cool. At least when we were out together. She laughed it off, “That’s why you’re mad? Please, I was drunk.”

Am I crazy? Okay, maybe they weren’t boning, but still. This chick is nuts, right?

Top Ten List

Top ten reader-submitted responses to the question, “Why is your Lamborghini black with gold sparkles down the middle?”

10. “It matches my shoes.” —PeacePipe21

9. “Three words: Liberace Estate Sale.” –Ken D.

8. “The gold for the side panels was back-ordered.” —Aaron H.

7. “My Bedazzler was broken.” —Sue L.

6. “Winning? Duh.”  —Stephanie S./BigTopGun

5. “What are you talking about? My Lamborghini isn’t gold spark– What the fuck?! Chanterelle!” –MorkOfOrk

4. “It’s for my daughter, Beverly Hills Bitch Barbie.” –NoAmbition

3. “You remember that guy from Top Chef: Just Deserts who put gold glitter on everything? No? Oh. Well, I’m him.” —Rob W.

2. “Advanced radar-scattering paint makes me immune to speed traps.” –CobaltBlue

1. “I have a small penis.” –22 people submitted a variation on this

Thanks for playing. Tonight I am going out with Jennifer to hear her band play again. Wish me luck.

Rocker Grrrl

Jennifer and I did it last night and she was amazing.

I’ll be honest. In my limited experience, women are all about the same in bed. That is to say, the standard deviation between awesome in bed and sucky in bed is very small for me. Now of course my sample size is far too limited to be accurate; hence the incredible deviation last night. Jennifer is just wild and fun and sexy and I don’t know what to say, she was just really good at it.

Ah, but here’s the problem. Cut to three hours earlier. I finally got to see Jennifer’s band perform at a club. And guess what? She is awful. The band blows, the songs suck, and Jennifer can’t sing for shit.

First of all, the “club” was little more than some loser’s rec room. I was expecting the Sunset Strip. Instead, we all crammed into a tiny little basement in some douche’s house in Hollywood. But regardless of the venue, the real problem is that Jennifer has absolutely no talent. I mean, at singing. I’ve already established that she has talent elsewhere.

I guess I just had this fantasy that I was dating Courtney Love or something (a cute version). I built it up in my head that she would be a kick-ass rocker chick and that it would be cool hanging out with her and the band.

But it wasn’t cool. It was really, really embarrassing. So I lied. And I was rewarded with the best sex of my life.

So great. Now what do I do? Keep telling her she’s great and sit through countless more high school talent show reject shows, or tell her the truth and lose her great sex stuff forever? I am so pissed. Why couldn’t she have just been good? Is that too much to ask for? Like at least American Idol Hollywood Week good. Not “I don’t know this chick” bad.

Elevator Girl, Master of Indifference

I had lunch with Michelle just now. I asked her about that guy was dating and she said it didn’t work out.

And she’s not seeing anyone new either.

She asked about me and I said I was dating Jennifer. I told her it was early on in the relationship (which she obviously interpreted as meaning we hadn’t slept together yet), but that I like her. She seemed genuinely happy for me, which was not at all what I was going for.

Maybe Michelle is just a good actress but she sure didn’t seem like she was upset that I “moved on.” I told her about Jennifer’s band and how I’m going to see them tomorrow night. She said, “She sounds really cool.” And then we talked about other stuff.

I don’t know why but I feel totally pissed off right now.

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.

Jennifer, Meet My Girlfriend…

Well, it happened. Jennifer met my girlfriend who’s been living with me for the last week… Ms. Pac Man.

She loved it! We literally played Ms. Pac Man till 2:00 in the morning. On the one hand, it was fun just hanging out and playing the game while getting increasingly drunk. I really got to know her and Jennifer is an interesting chick. She is like a double agent, wearing really expensive clothes by day for her job as Nordstroms. But then her band plays on weekends and she is kind of scary as a rocker grrrl. (I haven’t actually seen her perform yet, maybe next weekend.)

So Jennifer had no problem with a giant vintage video game in the middle of my apartment. The only downside is that Ms. Pac Man may have technically cock-blocked me. I’m pretty sure Jennifer was up for some fooling around when she agreed to go back to my place. The fact that I didn’t get any action at all can only be the result of her falling asleep on my couch while I was on an especially long turn. (I did finally kiss her when we said goodbye Sunday morning, but you get the idea.)

So now I’m wondering, what happens when Gunther sells the game? What if Jennifer is really just using me for my access to free Ms. Pac Man?

Wrong Number

The other day, a lady called me at work and when I answered she said, “Oh, sorry, wrong number.”

I said, “What number are you trying to reach?”

She gave it to me, I told her where she went wrong and that was that.

Except it wasn’t.

Before she could hang up, I said, “Wait, let me ask you something. As long as I’ve got you on the phone, and you being a neutral third-party, I need to ask your opinion about something.”

She said, “Okay…” a little leery.

I asked, “Hypothetically speaking, say a guy is in love with a girl and that girl probably is into him, but she’s not ready to be serious yet because she just got out of a relationship. But then a different girl comes along, who’s cool and everything, and maybe would be fun to date, but isn’t like the first girl… would you date the second girl while you were waiting for the first girl?”

There was a long pause and then she proceeded to give me her opinion for about twenty minutes. It boiled down to “it depends.” Anyway, I took it as a green light to go out with Jennifer, so that’s why I did.

Oh, and p.s., I did call Jennifer on Tuesday and it turns out she did like me, but she had a cold sore and didn’t want to tell me. That’s why she turned her head away. I told her it was moves like that that could cost her the love of her life one day. Anyway, we’re going out again this weekend.

Jenny from the Froyo Shop

I went out with Jennifer Friday night. (She’s the girl I met at the frozen yogurt shop.) Picked her up in Santa Monica and went to the new mall for dinner at some place called Xino.

Jennifer is a buyer for Nordstroms and actually works at the mall. I don’t really get the whole concept of a buyer and even after she explained it to me I was still somewhat unclear. But that’s just her day job. Turns out, Jennifer is in a local band and plays clubs up and down the Sunset Strip.

That one piece of information totally changed my perception of her. Suddenly, she was a cool rocker chick instead of some fashionista. Actually, the idea of dating a girl in a band is a little intimidating. Like, if it ever worked out, would I have to go to clubs all the time and party till 6 am? Or if I didn’t go, wouldn’t she just hook up with random dudes in sleazy bathrooms? On the other hand, I bet she’d totally be up for a three-way.

As it turns out, none of those problems are presenting themselves at the moment. After a pretty good dinner, we went to the bowling alley on Pico and had a really fun time. But when I dropped her off, I went to kiss her and she turned her head. That’s right. I got the “cheek.”

I took this as a bad sign. Like, “I like you, but not that way.” I guess I should call her anyway, just to be sure, but it looks like this one went south on me for some reason.