Rain

It’s raining in L.A. today so that can only mean one thing: traffic.

Normal, ordinary rain is equivalent to a blizzard here. There are accidents on every freeway, massive flooding (there are no storm drain in L.A.), and huge delays. It took me 50 minutes to get to work and it’s only a couple of miles away.

The only good thing that comes out of this much rain is that people in L.A. love to talk about it. In the elevator, the normally quiet group of office workers was going on and on about the pile-up on the 405.

I said, “I don’t get it. What is so hard about driving in the rain? Why does it have to be Carmageddon every time a few drops hit the ground?”

One woman said, “Because no one knows how to drive in L.A.”

A guy said, “But no one is from here. Don’t they remember how to drive in the rain from back when they lived in New York.”

I corrected him, “No one drives in New York.”

Then another woman said something really smart. She said, “There are 1.6 million cars on the Los Angeles freeways every day. Most days there aren’t any major accidents at all. That’s the miracle. When you add even the smallest variable to change those conditions and multiple that by the sheer number of vehicles, it approaches almost certainty that major collisions will occur.”

Everyone stopped and thought about what she said. Seemed to make sense.

I was especially proud because that woman was Michelle.

Hitting the Books

I went back to the public library. I went there once before with Gunther with good results so when Paul asked what I was up to yesterday, I said, “Let’s go to the library.”

After showing Paul the massive DVD collection (all free!)

we read magazines for an hour. People do the same thing in book stores, but I always felt guilty reading the magazines that you’re supposed to buy. No one else seems to have a problem with this because the magazine rack at B&N seems to have 99% browsers and 1% buyers. But I’m the guy constantly looking over my shoulder for the store manager to call the cops on me because I’ve been wrinkling the pages of Outlaw Biker Magazine. In the library, though, you can read all the magazines you want, all day long. And take as many DVD’s and watch them for free.

Anyway, one thing I love about the Santa Monica library is the screen saver they have on all the computers. It shows old pictures of Santa Monica from the 1930’s or the 1890’s. There will be some kid in a straw hat sitting on a hill eating a watermelon and the caption is “Children eating watermelon in front of Palisades Park, 1910.” And you think, “Wow, this area was the frontier back then.” I especially love the pictures of people at the beach in the 1920’s wearing twenty pounds of clothes, or women going swimming with long dresses on.

I was staring at the screen saver for like ten minutes when a guy interrupted me, “I love those pictures, too.” Turns out, Mitch works at the library. We got to talking and he found a book of old Los Angeles photos for me. I took the book home with me and have really enjoyed looking through it.

It’s cool to find something new you like and didn’t even realize it.

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.

 

“No one ever noticed me in my solid-colored Lamborghini.”

I was driving down Lincoln Blvd. and spotted this:

I know the picture is pretty crappy (I was driving while shooting) but it’s a gold-sparkled Lamborghini. The sides are black but it’s all glitter from bumper to bumper.

I wanted to talk to the owner so badly. I literally pulled over and went across the street to see if I could find him (and I do mean “him”–trust me, there was an exactly 0% chance the owner was female). I asked the guy at the Hertz place but he said it wasn’t their car and it’s been there all morning. I waited around for a little while but the owner never showed up.

So in lieu of a real conversation, readers please submit what you think this guy might have said if I had asked about the car. I’ll post the best responses later this week.

Lunch Truck

I’m still plotting my next move with Elevator Girl and have consequently been in a bad mood all week, but still I couldn’t resist talking to this stranger: the guy in a lunch truck outside of work.

In case you’re not from L.A., gourmet lunch trucks are the new hot thing here. Not like the old fashioned turkey-sandwich-in-a-plastic-bag lunch truck of yesteryear, these trucks have things like Fifty Kinds of Chili, Rack of Lamb, Penne Pasta in a Vodka Cream Sauce, or Chipotle Lime Steak Sandwiches. (Side note, how did chipotle become the new hot pepper of choice? Did the Chipotle Growers Association spend a lot of money marketing their pepper? What ever happened to just plain old jalepenos? Bad marketing?)

Anyway, I stopped at the truck outside work yesterday because I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try an “authentic” Philly cheese steak. I’m not from Philadelphia but I am from Pennsylvania so I’ve had authentic cheese steaks before.

This cheese steak was made with gouda. And you could get it with ribeye, chicken, sliced turkey, or lamb.

I said, “Can I get a regular cheese steak?”

The guy said, “What’s regular? Regular to you may be totally bizarre to me.”

I said, “Steak means beef and cheese means Provolone.”

So he said, “You must be from Philly. Don’t fuck with your cheese steaks, huh?”

I told him my story and he made me my cheese steak. But when I tasted it, I nearly gagged.

“What is this?!”

He said, “I wanted you to try the lamb and goat cheese.”

He completely ignored my order and gave me some bullshit Greek cheese steak.

“I do not want this.” I handed it back.

And then he just looked at me like I was an asshole and said, “Open your mind.” Literally. He literally said, “Open your mind.”

I was so steamed, I said, “How’s this for opening my mind? Fuck you!”

And I stormed off. I went to the mall and got a hamburger.

Christmas in L.A.

The Holidays are especially tough in Los Angeles because everyone abandons the city.

Since no one is really from here, it becomes a ghost town which is nice I guess for traffic but mostly it just seems post-apocalyptic.

Scott is taking off again and so am I in a few days. Growing up, Christmas time was fairly close to the Norman Rockwell ideal. Snowball fights, fire in the fireplace, hot chocolate… Everyone I knew stayed put because they were already home. Here, no matter how many people you meet and how many friends you make, it never seems like home. It’s like Los Angeles is one big office. You go to work here but when the lights go out, there’s no one home.

Lost Angeles

Being back home was weird. I haven’t been back since I started the Project and only now do I realize how inter-related the Project is to the city itself.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I know a lot of people. Most of my high school friends still live there and when I went out to the supermarket or the gas station I kept running into people I knew.

So it occurred to me that it’s probably that way for most people in the world. Even in the 21st Century, most people still live in the same place where they grew up. And the idea of talking to strangers would probably seem weird to most people in that situation. Because first of all, there aren’t that many strangers if you live in a small town in Indiana. And second, when there is one, of course you talk to him, if not to make a new friend, then at least to ask, “What brings you to Indiana?”

But in Los Angeles (or New York or any big city for that matter) it’s different. No one is from here. Or at least it seems that way. Everyone is a stranger. And especially in Lost Angeles, people live in their little cocoons, driving to work, sitting in an office or cubicle, living in a faceless apartment complex. Only in places like this does the Project even make sense.

I’m not saying I want to move back home. I like it here. It’s just that living in Los Angeles feels like the first day of college every day. You don’t know anyone but it seems like everyone else already knows each other.

But I think I’m finally starting to feel like a native. I’m finally making friends, dating, going out into the world and seeing what happens. Not only am I planting roots and growing a community of people who I like and who like me, but I feel like I’m starting to become the person I want to be.

I’m sure this all seems very lame but I guess the Holidays do that to you. Makes you reflect on your situation and what you have to look forward to in life.

Mailbox Guy’s Girlfriend

I met Monica last night. Gunther invited me over for dinner and I hung out with the two of them all night. Monica is really cool. She’s in her late-thirties

and divorced and she immediately bonded with me in a big-sister sort of way.

Monica sells jewelry in Venice. She and Gunther have this totally zen approach to life. To them, it’s not about making money or acquiring stuff. They just try to have as much free time as possible so they can go hiking and shit.

I told Monica about the Project and she thought it was really cool. I told her about Marny and how I’m actually starting to like her. Monica just laughed. I’m not sure what was so funny about that but she seemed to think it was a “typical male” way of approaching a relationship.

Anyway, Monica invited me to join them on Saturday in Venice. We’re going to hang out at the beach. It’s weird. I’ve lived in L.A. for four years now and I’ve never actually gone to the beach before.

Party Girl

I went to that party at Scott’s friend’s apartment in North Hollywood. First of all, what a dump. How do people live there? I live in Brentwood where it’s literally ten degrees cooler, and by the way, it’s not much more expensive.

I know people who live in Santa Monica who pay the same as chumps in the valley.

Anyway, the party was at this director’s apartment. I use the term “director” loosely, as he has “directed” one short film starring Scott, and it’s about a guy who stops a mugging/rape only to find out in the end that it’s really just a cat and I guess he imagined everything else. I won’t go into detail about how bad the film is.

The party was mostly actors and I will say that actors are a pretty attractive bunch. There were a lot of cute girls there. I didn’t know anyone other than Scott so I made a beeline for him. He introduced me as his “lawyer friend” and I had to keep correcting him since I am a banker, not a lawyer. But he was already too drunk to make the mental note and continued calling me a lawyer.

I met a few people through Scott, including one really hot “actress” named Marny. I met a few other people on my own, asking a lot of open-ending questions. The one thing I learned was that it’s hard to make it big as an actor. That’s all anyone talked about. Auditions, callbacks, getting an agent. I saw “Swingers” a long time ago and it was exactly like that. I think when people found out I couldn’t help them they kind of lost interest.

So I went back to Marny and listened to her talk about a screenplay she’s writing about two women who rob banks and kill other women’s cheating boyfriends (real subtle). To be honest, it made absolutely no sense but I listened and nodded thoughtfully. This went on for a long time. Before I knew it, the party was breaking up and she was just finishing the story.

I figured maybe I’d get her number and call her sometime but suddenly, she says, “You want to go somewhere else?”

I was like, sure. So we went to some bar and had a few drinks. Then, when I really thought the night was over (it was like 4 am), she says, “Do you want to come back to my place?”

To be honest, I was shocked. I was literally speaking only 5% of the time. How can that be interesting enough to invite me back to her place? But I guess she just really likes people who listen.

We went back to her place and well, you know. Sunday morning was kind of awkward but I kissed her goodbye and said I’d call her.

All day yesterday I was thinking about two things: (1) should I call this girl? I mean, I didn’t really find her interesting. But she was very attractive and I think I’ve earned a meaningless physical relationship. On the other hand, where is this going to go? It’s going to end badly if it even begins, so why be an asshole and pretend to like her? On the other, other hand, I did say I’d call her…

The second thing I kept thinking about was Elevator Girl. I mean Michelle.