The End…?

S. Dillinger writes:

Hey, I was wondering if you could share some of your stats info with us. Like just how many readers stay current, or do you find more people finish the blog and move on once they get up to speed.

I saw someone mention that you’d been name dropped on a radio station, I was curious as to how many others have shared your blog that are in a position to have a lot of listeners/followers check out your project.

Also, do you see an end to this thing in the near future now that you’ve acomplished some of your goals. I mean do you plan to stop blogging and just continue a normal life filled with conversations with strangers?

Side note: I tell tons of people about this thing, you’ve done a great thing here and have helped many, even if it’s something as simple as a conversation about the weather, it’s a good thing.

Thanks for the kind words and spreading the love.

It’s hard to say if people are sticking around or if they leave and are replaced by new people, but the numbers have been pretty steady over the last several months. The only “public” mentions of the blog that I know of were a couple of times where a celebrity tweeted about it. Someone invited me to do a radio interview a while back but I didn’t accept and I don’t know if they mentioned me anyway.

To answer the big question, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and the answer is yes, I am going to end the blog in June. It’s been very time consuming with work and my new boss, and I know a lot of people are going to be upset when it ends, but ultimately, I think it’s served its purpose, especially for me. And besides, I think that ending it on my wedding day will be a nice poetic close to this saga.

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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.

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Army Guys

I get asked a lot about how the whole experiment has changed me and here’s an example.

I was eating lunch and two guys came in wearing Army uniforms. They got their lunch and sat down. The thought popped into my head, “I should say something to them, just an ‘I appreciate you’ or something.” But as soon as the idea of saying something to someone pops into my head, this new alert fires in my brain that says, “You can’t not say it now.” So it’s not so much an encouragement as a refusal to wuss out.

It actually makes me smile whenever that alert goes off. I’m like, “Shit, I really don’t want to say something, but oh, all right. Fine, I’ll do it.” Then I go over and start talking.

In this case, I literally just said, “Sorry to interrupt, guys, I just wanted to say thanks for doing what you do.” They were very appreciative that I said something. So this just reinforces the alert in my brain because it always winds up being the right thing to do.

So if you want to start doing this experiment with me, focus on the “don’t wuss out” factor more than the impulse to talk to people. Because the impulse happens naturally, you just need a mechanism to avoid not following through.

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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.

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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!”

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Post Office Nazi

I had to mail some documents back to my parents in Pennsylvania so I went to the post office on Barrington. As I waited in line, I noticed a couple of things. First of all, almost all the employees were older Asian women. I have no idea what that is the case but it’s absolutely true.

One of the postal workers was giving a woman customer a hard time. She was yelling, “No! Not this one. This one! Stand over here! You’re holding up the line.” Apparently, the woman had filled out the wrong form and now she had to do it all over again.

I turned to the guy behind me, an average looking dude my age. “I hope I didn’t fill out the wrong form.”

He laughed and did a Soup Nazi imitation: “No mail for you. One year!”

This went on for a while as we moved up in the line. We were having a good laugh at this women who was bossing everyone around.

Then it was my turn and sure enough I got the Post Office Nazi. I put on a fake smile and started to launch into what I needed.

But she interrupted me. “Everything goes smoother if everyone follows the rules.”

Oh, shit. Had she overheard our conversation? I played dumb. “Yes, that’s definitely true.”

“If you don’t know something, you ask. Don’t hold up the line with the wrong form.”

She definitely knew we were making fun of her. I said, “Well, maybe sometimes people don’t ask because they’re scared of the person who has the information they need.”

She furled a brow. “Who’s scared?! There’s no one scared here.”

I pointed at the guy behind me in line I’d been joking with. I said, “He’s scared.”

I fully expected the guy to have my back here. But instead, he totally denied everything! He said, “I’m not scared. I don’t even know this guy.”

Back-stabbing jerk. I felt betrayed. So I just said, “Whatever, can I just mail this?”

She rang up the postage, I paid, then I turned to leave. But she stopped me with, “No mail for you. One year!”

I looked back and saw she was smiling. Clearly a joke. I smiled.

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Valentine’s Day Redux

Here’s what I had to say about Valentine’s Day last year: http://www.talktostrangersblog.com/?p=651. This year Michelle and I are going out to Rustic Canyon for dinner and I actually paid attention to all those flower commercials so I could buy the best ones. So, yeah, a year makes a difference.

I know what it’s like to have a shitty Valentine’s Day because not only do you not have someone in your life but there are no prospects for the future. It’s the hopelessness that really hurts. If I honestly thought, “Bad luck, Valentine’s Day fell this year between past and future girlfriends,” it wouldn’t be that big a deal. I’d just hang out with friends or go to a strip club or something. But wondering how could a potential girlfriend even exist–where would she even come from?–that’s the stuff of real depression.

Well, here’s my pep talk. First of all, just because you can’t see happiness around the bend doesn’t mean it’s not there. And second, you can take control of your life. You can get out there and meet people. I did it. I get a lot of emails from people who say they want to meet people but they’re just too shy. Well, unless you have a note from your doctor saying you have a social anxiety disorder, then I call bullshit. Being scared is no excuse. Overcoming fears is one of the things we do as grown-ups.

Buy a book on how to mingle. Read the news of the weird right before you go out so you have a few things to talk about. Or just listen and react to what people are saying. But to quote the Pennsylvania State Lottery Commission, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

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Unrequited Bromance

I went to Whole Foods on Sunday mostly to buy food but also to see Astrid.

I wanted to hang out with Cesar again, because he seemed cool and smart and I wanted to be his friend. But how do you go about saying that to another dude? I figured I would ask his girlfriend to set it up. But a weird thing happened when I brought it up.

I waited in her checkout line and when it was my turn, I said, “Hey, hope you had a good time at the party.”

She said, “Totally. It was so cool of you to invite all those people.”

I said, “I really liked your friend Cesar. He’s one funny dude.”

She said, “Yeah, I saw you guys talking.”

I tried to be nonchalant when I said, “We should hang out some time.”

Then she looked at me kind of weird. She said, “Like all three of us?”

I was like, “Sure. It could be a group thing. Or just me and him. Like guys night out or something. Either way.”

For some reason this didn’t come out right in her mind. She just looked at me.

So I said, “So can I get his info?”

Astrid said, “Why don’t you give me your info and I’ll pass it along to him.”

I was confused. Not sure how I made this weird but apparently I had. I just said, “Sure, whatever’s easier.” I wrote down my email on the receipt and gave it to her.

I walked out with my lemon chicken wondering what she thought I really wanted.

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On Transcending

Sue D. writes:

I’m enjoying your blog. I think meeting and talking with strangers is such a great idea! It’s lead to so many interesting encounters for you. I wonder if you consider your experiment a success, or if you even consider it an experiment anymore? It seems like you’ve transcended the original purpose for your blog and now it’s become just another part of your every day life.

That was an interesting question, one I’ve been thinking about for a few days now. And the answer is kind of complicated.

Yes, talking to strangers is second-nature in some ways now. When I go up to a counter and order a roast beef sandwich, I don’t have to remind myself that I should strike up a conversation. But one thing I’ve learned is I am who I am. Despite the now long history of doing this, I still don’t talk to strangers without effort. The second-nature aspect of it is that I don’t think about that I should be talking to them. It doesn’t get my all the way to actually doing it without thinking about it. So I guess, the point is, I’ve got a lot of practice but there’s a built-in inertia that must be overcome every time.

I do consider the experiment a success. Obviously, things turned out better than I ever imagined. It’s literally changed my life and I am happier than I’ve ever been. And maybe you’re right that it’s not even an experiment anymore anyway. It’s just something I do. Like, if you go on a diet where you cut out carbs, for example, and it’s successful. You lose the weight. You reach your target. But it’s changed your eating habits along the way and now you just eat healthier meals and stay away from carbs because you know they aren’t good for you. It’s no longer a diet because you’re not trying to lose weight anymore. Now, you’ve adopted a different lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean when you see a sticky bun you don’t crave it.

It’s weird. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I get into a meta-mode where I’m talking to someone just thinking about how I’m going to write this up later. It seems a little inauthentic at times, like I’m violating the spirit of the project. But ultimately, talking to strangers is talking to strangers. Mostly I don’t think too much about it. Some days I pass on opportunities. But I think I will continue the “experiment” forever. Partly just because I like being that person. But I have to admit–and I’m as far from superstitious as you get–part of me wants to keep it up so I don’t jinx myself and lose what I’ve attained.

 

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Frappe

Okay, so I’m obsessed with this guy Cesar. It’s like he’s given me the red pill and now I realize I’ve been living in the Matrix. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you think your appliances are doing something smart only to learn that they’re really dumb, it kind of shakes your world.

The classic example is the blender. Someone figured out a long time ago that people would buy more blenders if they thought the blenders were smarter. So instead of power level 1-10 to indicate the actual function–changing the power (and hence the blade speed) from 10% to 100%–someone decided to name the settings:

1-Fold
2-Stir
3-Mix
4-Blend
5-Combine
6-Beat
7-Cream
8-Fluff
9-Frappe
10-Whip

Now of course these words are all synonyms more or less for the same basic thing and it’s actually far less accurate than power level 1-10, but lo and behold, as soon as they changed the name of the setting, they started selling more blenders. It all boils down to this: People just liked to think that their blenders “knew” what they were blending. And so an industry was born.

Here’s some appliance settings that I thought did something intelligent and here’s what Cesar says they really do:

Function What I thought it did What it really does
Sanitize/sterilize Filters out bacteria Uses hotter water
Defrost (microwave) Targets water molecules Lowers power level
Defrost (toaster) Heats from the inside out Lowers power, extends time
Recirculate air Purifies air and pumps it back out Closes outside vent
Large load Recalibrates weight sensors for even spin Lowers spin speed
Pots and pans Special jets target the bottom of the pot Wash cycle runs longer
Convection cook Turns on a cyclone Turns on a little fan
Reheat (toaster) Cooks from the inside out Turns power very low
Delicate Gently tumbles clothes Lowers temperature
Crystal/china Buffs and shines glasses and plates Lowers temperature

There are lots of other examples but I can’t write about them right now. I have to go frappe a smoothie with Cesar.

 

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