45 tagged with #interactions

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take one


'please,' he said. 'please, take one. take one.'

usually, i'm curious. i want to know what inspired someone to expend the resources to produce stacks of flyers, to commit a cold afternoon standing on a street corner engaging with strangers. but rarely is this corner occupied by someone whose message i want to hear. from half a block away, i could hear him, and i could see that no one took any of the plain white printouts from his gloved hands.

'no thanks,' i said, in the nicest voice i could manage. i found his carefully neutral demeanor distasteful, i found the feather in his had distasteful, i found his tan wool coat distasteful, i found his insistent offer to every single person distasteful.

'what's this all about, then?' said one of the old ladies who stacked up behind me at the crosswalk.

'about the passover, ma'am,' he replied in that same cardboard cutout smile voice. 'all about the passover, and christ.'

'oh, no. no, we don't want that,' she said, wrinkling her nose.

it's a public sidewalk, i remind myself. we all have the right to stand on a street corner and proselytize, i remind myself. that's part of the deal.

we also all have the right to find it distasteful, that a charming middle aged-man in small glasses and quiet clothes would walk up and down a block that connects several temples and ask the jews to consider that his beliefs are better than theirs.

years ago, on this same corner, a young man stood with a clipboard, asking everyone who passed by if they were registered to vote, and offered to help fill out forms for anyone who needed it. 'are you just looking for democrats?' accused an ornery old man.

'sir, i help anyone register to vote,' he said calmly. 'do you need to register?'

and before the old man could counter, an old lady stepped between them, raising the handle of her folded umbrella.

'don't go starting trouble here!' she demanded, staring the old man down until he backed off. 'don't go picking fights!'

'i'm registered already, thanks,' i said as i passed. i gave him a smile, and a nod. the turnout on election day is only around a fifth of eligible voters. i don't understand why it's so low.

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15 March 2018 15:00


habaneros


i took my snack break on the steps outside of the library, facing a dirty brick wall that separated the walkway from a looming victorian house next door. shoveled snow piled around me, though the concrete was dry; cold seeped through the seat of my jeans quickly enough to dull the flesh, so i no longer minded it.

i bit into my apple while watching three teenagers saunter out the back door, one of them clutching a plastic bag of produce. 'habanero? you want a habanero?' the bag was offered to an old man on his way out.

'oh, no thanks,' he said, laughing.

'how bout you? need a habanero?'

i gave a little wave with the half-gnawed apple in my numb fingers. 'nah, i'm good, thanks.'

'good choice,' mumbled one of the other teens. they continued down the path, challenging each other to eat habaneros until they puked.

i was at least this weird as a teenager.

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09 March 2018 16:39


how to make friends on the street


he was walking towards me, a big guy with wild dreadlocks spilling out of a black down jacket and a deep hood. i've learned to recognize the way someone holds a vape in their hand, but i could barely see the mouthpiece hidden between his fingers. i have this tendency to stare at people, sometimes, and i was looking for earphones or a headset somewhere under his hair, because he was talking, a lot. people talk when they walk alone all the time these days, into some wires attached to a phone, or some device that projects communication through the air.

but then he held out his free hand in front of me, fingers splayed, in the 'stop stop where you are' gesture, and i froze mid-step. 'excuse me, excuse me!' he said urgently. i worried. 'i love your hair!'

my hand went up to my shoulder; i forgot what my hair looked like. i had two layers of hoods; one for warmth, the second for rain protection, which i pulled up around my dreads. they spilled down the front of my chest, almost to my waist. they were much longer than his.

'thanks, man.'

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14 February 2018 19:29


bike greetings


some people frown at me when they see me on my bicycle. sometimes, it's their response to imagining themselves on a bicycle. 'can't you walk to work instead? what about the bus?'

sometimes it's a frustration that i'm in their way, that my presence forces them to be more careful, that they're worried something bad might happen to me and they have to see it.

but sometimes, i'll pass someone who looks at me and grins through their scarf. sometimes, i pass the old security guard who's been keeping an eye out for me since i was a teenager, and raise a hand in greeting. 'hey! you're making me look bad,' he protests.

'you can be out here with me, too,' i shout back, and his reply is blown away by the wind as i slide around the corner.

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07 February 2018 15:23


neighborhood (part 2)


a woman in a flattened down jacket stumbles along the salted sidewalks in orthopaedic shoes; i put my hand over my heart and shake my head at her, sorry. i've seen her here for years. i've seen her here for as long as i've lived in this neighborhood.

the clerk at the liquor store leans against her checkout counter, eighteen minutes before closing, staring unblinkingly at the display of miniature bottles of jim beam. i wonder if there's going to be a pre-closing rush today. i'm only passing the window.

the entrance of this grocery store has always smelled like rotten vegetables, year-round. i have been in many other grocery stores, and i know that this is not the only way a grocery store can smell. do the regulars here know that, too? a pale man with a monstrous white beard reaches past me to paw through a display of countless different kinds of boxed macaroni and cheese, and i don't let myself spend much time thinking about what percentage of the items in the store are food and what percentage are food products.

it surprises me that there are cartons of egg dozens that almost cost five dollars; even on their small island, my parents can get eggs for under three dollars if they're lucky. the cheapest eggs here this week are still between one and two dollars, a number that sometimes seems preposterously high, and other times seem unreasonably low. i am grateful for a steady source of eggs.

the woman begging on the street crosses my path again. "sorry," i say out loud. "i'm sorry." i want to ask her: do you have a warm place to sleep tonight? but i am afraid, because i know she has persisted through this many winters, and worry that the question is patronizing. what i really want to ask is: are you alright? is there truly something i can do to help you? are you alone? what are your hopes?

we're all people, but sometimes i don't know how to talk to people. on my bad days, i hand out dollars; on my worst days, i've handed out twenties. i pay off my guilt for existing with more than the bare minimum of cash i need to survive, by passing off fistfuls of currency to anyone lucky enough to ask me during that moment. and i worry, then, too, if i could be more fair, if i could be more generous, if i could reach more bodies, if i could cause a greater amount of happiness.

and i have to satisfy myself with the reassurance that i'll never know the answers to these questions.

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06 February 2018 23:26


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