Strangers

Jason writes and directs musicals and plays. Can you imagine having the imagination to write and direct musicals and plays? I cannot. But Jason does. For this venue. And he has a really really really long list of accolades and awards and stuff theater people earn for being wackadoodles with talent. Being a scientific sort of the mommy variety, sidling up to Jason’s world is a messy, titillating, uncomfortable, and unusual experience. In the other words: it’s awesome. It’s also no surprise that his latest obsession is with Strangers. I think we’ve all become strangers out in public– tethered to our devices, pre-occupied with emails and texts and the urgent and never-ending comments and requests from people who aren’t physically near us. Meanwhile, we ignore—nay, avoid?—the people in our very path.

But I am John Stockton’s daughter, and I adopted his Rules of Dad as the code of conduct for all adults. Growing up, I had no idea my father was unusually friendly, chatty, inquisitive, interested, and irreverent. I just thought that’s what social confidence looked like. Boring, repressed, stern, and otherwise joyless adults were never in Dad’s sphere. And the gravitational pull of a personality like Dad’s is probably selective to similarly tuned people. Blessed with a father with a frequency for fun, the influential adults of my formative years were hilarious, successful, and brilliant.

Side bar: we can discuss for days how to parent properly, but exposing your kiddos to kind, wonderful people that you admire– that impression lasts forever.

I’ve never had a restaurant meal with Dad after which we did not know the name, station, and career aspirations of our assigned wait staff. Unsuspecting line-waiters are subject to his kind, jokey gibber gabber. Dad is a man who believes everyone is interesting, and is open to learning the stories of strangers. The result is that Dad knows no strangers. And in this world of ear-budded introverts, I think this is a great, great thing.

Jason is collecting stories about strangers over here. The result will be an original piece of theater exploring how we avoid each other, but will probably include the dynamic human moments that happen when we cannot. Do you have a story about A Stranger?

Here’s mine.

It was freezing. One of those ridiculous wind chill days where opening the front door makes you gasp and want to cancel everything. But I was never going to study successfully at home with the temptation of nachos, or naps, or absolutely anything else. The microbiology test was tomorrow: I had exactly 12 hours to cram all knowledge of plasmids into my blonde head. Surely none of the gunner medical students would brave the sub-zero weather to study at Widener… so I hopped the red line into Cambridge.

Studying at the undergraduate Harvard campus is… quiet. That’s the lure. Plus, I always imagined the ghosts of benevolent geniuses to be ethereally cheering me onward. (This is the risk of studying in Boston: delusions of connection to a grander past.)

He was adorable. Moppy, two semesters-overdue-for-haircut adorable. Two tables away, we shared a few sighs and shot hairy eyeballs at the gossipy girls in the carrels. After an hour of distracted studying, he invited me to join him for a study break.

We walked farther than I would have ever agreed, had he not been adorable. It was so so so so cold, but he insisted that the caffeine and treats at this place were the finest. Chat chat chat, I’m cramming for this, you’re studying for that. Oh, aren’t you smart? Oh, aren’t you? Thank fucking God we’re here and tea is ordered.

The thawing begins. I can’t stop listening to Chet Baker. That’s his favorite. I love coconut and twilight and tea. Yup, totally. Long stares. Shared movie titles, favorite books, more tea. But then… plasmids. There will be a test on plasmids. I return to reality and less flirty conversation.

“You are adorable. But time’s up. I need to cram.”

“No, it’s early. Really. It’s very early.”

Repeat times twenty. Then oh, my mom and dad met exactly here 25 years ago and I always knew I’d meet my wife at Widener, and then bring her exactly here, and you look like my mom, and this is meant to be and kismet and fate and and and…

Oh my God, you’re crazy. Or an adorable romantic. Either way, I have to figure out how to cut and paste plasmids and I’m not ready to get married and this is flattering but Jesus, don’t follow me, and yikes. I threw dollars on the table, raced to the Red Line and never saw cute moppy-haired boy again.

No doubt he married some other blonde studying in Widener. I’ll never know. But the fast-tracked romance stayed with me: stranger turned suitor, turned nuisance, turned stranger. And the whole exchange was likely initiated by my receptiveness, my inborn enthusiasm for strangers and their stories… something Dad taught me. When it comes to people, I’m in.

And I hope you are, too. Because that’s where all of the good stories start.

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin...

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin…

 

 

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11 responses

  1. Sounds like he was looking for his Mother. Ha! In my experience, creating co-incidences (i.e. my parents met right here too) is a fool’s errand. Neat story Britt.

    • Creating co-incidences… I like that. And story-telling is always super fun. Until Jason had me thinking about Strangers, I hadn’t thought of that boy from the library in decades.

  2. Hi Britt,

    Sorry for the late comment. I have been on a long road trip and am wide awake. I had similar parents and am their legacy. My daughter says each day is fun with me. I know the stories of everyone we meet & make friends on a daily basis. That’s the best part of life: authentic personal connection:)
    Jenny

    • Your daughter’s comment is certainly the highest praise. Growing up, when people asked my mom what drew her to Dad, she’d say, “He makes everything more fun.” Sounds like any long road trip with you would include collecting lots of stories. Safe travels, Jenny! xoxo

  3. Needless to say I share your John Stockton’s view of social interaction and engagement as a full body contact blood sport…which always leaves me wondering, after leaving the pool, if I have mortally wounded someone in the process. I certainly don’t intend to…and indeed my intention is way more oriented to blasting through people’s protective unconsciousness to establish a genuine real time “connection” however short lived – that leaves people feeling good, acknowledged and a little happier about life. Truth is, it’s fun…and I’m sure many (at least some) are left saying “WTF was that all about”…and half ready to call the cops to corral this crazy asshole…

    • The real time connection is something that is getting lost. But even before the Age of the iThing, I noticed that people took notice of Dad, and you, and Lynn, and other Giants of My Youth. Often people were taken aback by being looked in the eye, addressed directly, and roped into any and all kinds of conversations in all sorts of places.

      I would love to be a fly on the wall when some unsuspecting “stranger” returns home to tell the story of the batshit crazy man he just met at the airport. “Didn’t know if I should hug him or call the cops!”

      Love you so much. xoxox

  4. I have so many stranger stories. Like your father, I can’t help but talk to people. I look every cashier in the eye and make an effort to respond to them all as individual people. Tonight at a concert, my gf and I made lovely friends with total strangers. My romance with my gf is another story I strangers I will not share. I don’t know what exactly is a stranger. If we’re friendly are we still strangers? If we share our names does that do it? I don’t know. I just think it’s important to remember that every person is an individual whole human, who deserves to be treated with dignity, compassion and perhaps a smile.

  5. I cannot run to the grocery store without entangling myself in an unexpected conversation with a stranger and I cannot imagine my life without the intricate web of stories that connect my days.

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