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…

By Popular Demand: Now Available as a Book

Yesterday, the BBC published an article about talking to strangers and I was featured prominently in it.

Because of that exposure, I reached 40,000 new people, and during the course of the day, I received dozens upon dozens of heartwarming emails about the Project. I feel so connected to the readers having now read so many of their stories, all I can say is it was very cool and more than a little humbling.

Many, many people have asked if the blog is going to be a book or a movie and I have repeatedly said no. But then, around mid-day, I read an email from a teenager who had attempted suicide. I know, serious stuff. He’s fine now, he got the help he needed, but he said the blog was really inspirational to him because he had always felt so isolated. There’s more to the story but suffice to say it had a big impact on me.

Anyway, long story short, I changed my mind and decided to publish the blog in digital form. It’s just a collection of the posts, but they are collected in chronological order and you can take it with you to the beach or wherever without the hassle of reading it online. I published it at Smashwords because it was quick and easy. Here’s the link. [Edited to add that it’s now available on Amazon here and in the UK here.]

Michelle was instrumental in putting it together in such a short time and she even designed the cool cover for me. I had to charge 99 cents because that’s what the minimum was, but if anyone feels like they don’t want to pay, they can always read it here for free.

My goal of course isn’t to make a big payday here (though the thought did occur to me that this timing is fortuitous with the wedding in ten days). I just wanted to reach as many people as possible and see if my story can inspire people to find their own happiness. I feel so fortunate to have embarked on this journey and to have made friends with so many people in person and online. I just wanted to say thank you. And good luck on your own journeys.

Farewell

I was going to end the blog in June after my wedding, but as the date gets closer, I am starting to realize that this wedding thing might actually take up more of my time than I thought. So I’ve decided to say goodbye on a high note and not be one of those bloggers that just fades away with fewer and fewer posts.

It goes without saying that this has been an incredible journey. Almost two years ago I made a decision to take control of my life by doing something simple: talking to strangers. It turned out not to be so simple after all and I never could have imagined ago the impact that my decision would have on my life.

It’s not just the obvious boon of meeting and marrying Michelle. Or the relationships with countless others, both profound and mundane, that I’ve nurtured over the course of the Project. The result I’m most proud of is the change in me.

I used to overthink things and the dialog in my head about what the other person would say if I started a conversation would be too much to overcome. Does this person just want to be alone? What if they don’t like me? What if I embarrass myself?

Now, it’s not that I don’t care, I do, it’s just that I know most people like people. And those who don’t, the people who say “Fuck off,” well, I’m better able to brush it off. Because I’ve racked up some wins, I can better ignore the defeats.

Talking to people has become second nature. I really am that guy in the elevator now who says, “How’s everybody doing?” (Okay, maybe not really like the Sparklets guy, but I have spoken to a lot of people in elevators.) I just like the excitement of not knowing what’s going to happen when you interact with another person. It still makes my heart race when I approach someone, but now it’s exciting, not terrifying.

I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve become the person I never even knew I could be. Sure, maybe I’m unemployed, but that doesn’t seem to matter right now. I’m about to go on this journey with Michelle and it just feels awesome.

I know I’ve said most of this stuff before. After two years, I’ve said pretty much everything I can think of. But one thing I don’t think I’ve said enough is how much I appreciate the support and emails and comments from the people who’ve been following this Project. For every comment you see, I get a few private emails from people telling me about their lives. About how they’re shy or just in a situation where it’s tough to meet people. I respond to every one of them and I tell them if I can do it, so can you. Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking to hear about younger kids–teenagers or college students–telling me about how hard it is. But trust me, the hardest part is taking that first step.

I don’t want to be all self-congratulatory, patting myself on the back for my own successes or for being all “inspirational” to other people. But I have learned a lot and I think it’s worth sharing. It all boils down to this: people were not meant to be alone. We need human interaction. It’s what makes life worth living. And unfortunately, sometimes that takes effort. Sometimes it takes a shitload of effort. But it’s never not worth it.

On the Turning Away

We went to get froyo yesterday and Michelle had to run back to the car to get her frequent eater punch card.

So in the short time I was waiting for her I sampled the different flavors and started making comments out loud, like “Huckleberry? More like Suck-leberry.”

One hot woman laughed, and I felt the need to defend myself. I said, “You try it. It tastes like frozen salad dressing.”

She took a sample, shuddered, and I said, “See? Now the Boysenberry is actually pretty good but that’s not coming back till next month.”

She said, “You must come here a lot if you know their flavor rotation.”

I said, “Yeah, well, my fiance really likes to fill up her punch card.”

But suddenly, her smile just kind of faded. I wasn’t even thinking this was some kind of flirting thing, but I definitely got the sense that she was interested. Just then, Michelle came back in with her card and said, “What looks good?”

The hot girl said, “Enjoy your yogurt,” and continued on.

Michelle was like, “Making friends, I see.”

It was weird, ever since I stopped looking at women as potential dates, they’ve become more interested in me. Are women that into the air of indifference? I can’t believe that I’m acting any differently here.

First Dance

We’ve been finalizing our wedding plans and that means lots of trips to flower people, cake people, caterers, and bands.

We decided we wanted to do something different and cool so we’re having a live Brazilian band at the wedding. Neither of us is Brazilian, obviously, and it’s not like we know anything about Brazilian music, but it’s cool, and different, and so we’re meeting with Brazilian bands.

So we went to listen to one band at a club they were playing and we had arranged to meet with them during a break. These guys were great and we wanted to hire them to play the wedding. So we negotiated the fee and everything seemed perfect, and then I remembered we wanted them to play a non-Brazilian song for the first dance. It’s kind of an inside thing, but Michelle and I really like this song called, “Song Beneath the Song.”

So I said, “Oh, I forgot, can you just play one song that’s not Brazilian?” I explained the story and told them the song.

And the bandleader, who’s this Brazilian woman, says, “No.”

I’m like, “Seriously?”

She said, “We only play Brazilian music.”

And I said, “I know. I get that. I’m just saying the one song for the first dance.”

And she looks at me and says, “No. You want a band to play that shit from Grey’s Anatomy you can hire a whiny American band.”

I couldn’t believe it. So I turned to Michelle and said, “We should talk about this.”

I told the bandleader we’d get back to her.

Am I crazy here? Is it really a major faux pas to ask a Brazilian band to play one song not from Brazil?

Unaccompanied Minor

I went back home for Easter and I always have a fun time talking to people on planes.

On the way back yesterday we had a layover in Dallas, and we got seated next to an unaccompanied minor sitting in the window seat. She was 11, in fifth grade, but she looked much older. She started talking to me right away and I kept turning to Michelle like, “You saw this, right? She started talking to me? I didn’t strike up the conversation with the hot 11 year old girl.”

Anyway, her single mom sends her to Florida all the time to visit her grandparents, who she thinks are “totally boring.” I asked her what shows she watches (“Wizards of Waverly Place”), whether she has a lot of friends (“not really”), and what food she likes (“pasta” and she does most of the cooking for mom). We literally talked for three hours and it was kind of exhausting. I had to run everything I was about to say through some kind of filter to make sure it was appropriate.

Her mom wasn’t at the baggage claim in LAX when we got there and it kind of raised a red flag, like maybe she was lying and she doesn’t really have a mom or something. I don’t know, the whole thing just seems so incredibly dangerous. Who would send an 11 year old girl across the country by herself? Am I old fashioned here?

I asked her if she was okay, where was her mom, etc., but she assured me that her mom would be there to pick her up. Michelle and I looked at each other, and eventually we just said okay. I mean, what could we really do?

I hope she got home safely.

Crossroads

Many of you may have assumed that my lack of posts lately was related to my decision to bring the blog to a close in a couple months. Not exactly.

In fact, the real reason I haven’t been posting is because I lost my job.

Here’s what happened. We’ve had a new managing director running the L.A. office for a while now and he’s been a real hard ass. I was up for a promotion and that means a review and I guess Justin didn’t think I was ready for the big leagues. He didn’t exactly fire me, he just sort of implied that I was never going to rise in the company and that I should “pursue other opportunities.” So I guess technically I quit but either way, I am now unemployed.

I shouldn’t complain because I know I’m doing much better financially than most people out there. And not to make me seem like an even bigger dick but I got a severance package that will cover my expenses for the rest of the year.

But the big question is, what the hell am I supposed to do now? Find another job in banking? I always complained that this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life but now that the job is gone, the idea of trying something else seems pretty scary. Michelle thinks I should try writing a book about the Project but I don’t want to be one of those cliches. Or maybe I really would love to write about it but I’m afraid I’ll suck at it and I’ll be one of those losers in the Starbucks that I make fun of.

It’s also just a really bad time to start a new career. The wedding is coming up in two months and we’ve got a ton of things to do. Well, actually, it’s really good timing to be unemployed so I can focus on the wedding, it’s just not a good time to find another job.

So that’s where I am, in case you were wondering. Once again at the crossroads.

First Tuba

Gotta make this quick because I’m catching a flight to Boston for work.

This weekend, Michelle and I took her niece to see Holst’s “The Planets” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. They do this whole thing where a goofy guy acts out the music and narrates the performance. The place was filled with kids and they loved it.

Anyway, I’m always fascinated by unusual careers. Jobs I never would have thought of doing in a million years. Not because they’re bad, but because they’re just so unusual. Naturally, I was watching these men and women in the orchestra playing their instruments and it occurred to me that some of the less “sexy” instruments must make for interesting cocktail conversation. Like, “I play the xylophone. Professionally.”

So Michelle said, “After the concert, you should go talk to one of the musicians.”

So I did.

I asked the women at the door if I could talk to someone from the orchestra and long story short, I talked to First Tuba for about five minutes. I had a hard time having the conversation because the whole time I just kept thinking, “Wow, you must really love the tuba.” I managed not to insult him, and he even let Michelle’s niece attempt to play the tuba, which is actually pretty hard to do.

I wish there were some kind of funny twist ending to the story, but sometimes you talk to someone and it pretty much just goes down like you expect.

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!”