Friday, August 31, 2007

Chitchat

Californians are friendly. In grocery stores, the cashiers strike up conversations, smiling and scanning my food. It’s off-putting; I’m not used to small-talk, not least because usually I’ve just spent an ungodly period of time alone in our studio apartment, out of reach of human interaction. The conversation is usually prompted when I show my driver’s license, required whenever we buy beer or wine. “You’re a long way from home,” a Trader Joe’s cashier observed recently. Or, the more common comment: “What brings you out here?” They ask how long we’ve been here, if we like it, how it’s different from back home. These questions are sometimes complicated, especially if Andrew presents his FL license. Sometimes we talk about FL as though it’s a home we’ve just left, remarking on the difference in humidity and other such chitchat.

A couple of weeks ago, the cashier at the large grocery store Raley’s studied and studied my license, getting a handle on my name, which she used throughout the rest of the conversation. All this attention to my license is fine, I suppose, but it’s also unfortunate that what they see on my license is the Lobotomy Picture. I’d waited outside the DMV on 125th street for over two hours the day the picture was taken; it was a time of desperation, of fruitless DMV trips, attempting to replace my PA license (stolen, along with my purse) with a NY one. Terrible. It had been a freezing-cold morning, and a strand of windswept hair had positioned itself at a jagged angle across my forehead. In the picture, the hair, along with my crazed eyes and forced smile, suggest—no, assert—lobotomy patient.

Our car has generated a bit of friendly CA-style small talk as well. This week, Andrew and I went to the mall and were accosted in the parking lot by an aggressively friendly older couple who wanted to know how we liked our Volvo. We were skillfully swept into an extremely lengthy conversation—the husband pulled Andrew over to one side, while the wife chattered over the car to me. “What’s your name?” I heard the man ask Andrew. And then the woman, to me, moments later: “What’s your name?” It seemed eerily choreographed. The conversation resulted, for Andrew, in an exchange of business cards and the suggestion that there might be a job available at the man’s consulting firm. Though Andrew does indeed have the admirable gift of being able to inspire genuine affection and good will instantaneously, this was not, I’m quite sure, one of those fortuitous encounters where careers are magically propelled ahead. On the contrary, we speculated on the way home whether we’d been targeted as possible converts to some sort of religion, and our suspicions were deepened when a Google search turned up no mention of either the man or his company.

Perhaps we’re just cynical New Yorkers; perhaps my under-stimulated imagination is just desperate for a little drama here in bland-as-oatmeal suburbia; or perhaps this won’t be the end to this story at all.

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