Please. Stop. Talking.

At one of the city's libraries, there's an alcove with four small tables arranged too tightly, next to a sunny window. Everyone who's not goth or a vampire likes to sit there, even me. Just four small tables, four chairs, and usually all four are taken, but on this particular afternoon there was an empty table and chair.

A young Asian man approached, and sat down. "Hello, I am pleased to see you," he said to the person behind me, someone I couldn't see because of the angle of my chair.

There was no response, so the Asian guy said again, "Good morning, I am pleased to see you." It's an oddly formal thing to say, but he had an accent, so he's an immigrant, his English studied and learned, which ain't easy. And he didn't know American lack-of-manners, but the man behind me, the man I can't see, was about to school him.

"Do I know you?" asked the voice, impatiently.

"No, no," said the accented Asian. "I am only saying good morning."

"Well, don't say good morning to me. I don't talk to people I don't know, and you shouldn't talk to people you don't know. It's rude, and it's almost 1:00. 'Good morning' is over."

"I am sorry," said the Asian guy. Shame or embarrassment is the look on his face. "I only wanted to say good morning, or good afternoon—"

"And I don't want to hear it," said the voice. "Stop talking to me."

"I am sorry," he said again.

"Stop. Talking."

And at that, the Asian man shook his head in a direction that was neither yes nor no, but he stopped talking. He opened the book he'd brought to the table, and started reading it, or pretending to read. It had been an awkward moment, maybe verging on violence.

I've never been quite so adamant about it, and don't enforce a rule of silence as strictly as the voice, but that man I couldn't see had summarized my opinion on conversations with random strangers. I'd say it more politely, though: Please. Stop. Talking.

Maybe it's just my nature, or perhaps there was some forgotten trauma in my youth, but I am shit at talking with people, and don't want to try it with anyone/everyone who says good morning or good afternoon.

Chattering with strangers about sports and weather or whatever potentially leads to full-fledged conversations or even friendships, or so I've read, but I hate wasting time on such inanities, so there are few conversations, and no new friendships with me have been formed since the 1990s.

I am not complaining about that.

♦ ♦ ♦

At the same table, same alcove, same library on a different day, a different young Asian man took the last table. He said nothing, and the silence was a beautiful sound. I was barely aware he was there, until seconds, minutes, or an hour later he stood up and looked at me, and said something in an accent thicker than the 'good morning' guy that other afternoon.

"Excuse me?" I said, and he said whatever he'd said again, slower, and swept his hand through the air above his table. His jacket was on his chair, and his smart phone was on the table, plugged in and presumably charging. More from the gesture than his words, I surmised and said, "You want me to watch your stuff?"

He said something more I couldn't understand, but smiled and his face said yeah, so I nodded, and went back to the beloved internet on my laptop.

After that, if someone who wasn't him had come by and messed with his stuff, I would've said something, but nobody came by. The Asian guy himself didn't come by, and I forgot all about him as I sat and surfed.

A couple of hours later, after I'd posted something on this site, answered all my emails, and discretely downloaded some porn, my day at the library was done. The Asian guy, though, had never come back. His jacket and smart phone and charger were still there. It was a nice-looking phone, too, and those things cost hundreds of dollars. Sweet jacket, too.

I packed my own laptop and charger and sighed, frustrated at being pressed into good citizenship, but what the hell. I picked up his jacket, charger, and smartphone, looked for a 'lost and found' sign but didn't see one, so I dumped everything on the check-out desk, and said to the librarian, "Some guy wanted me to watch his stuff while he took a piss or dropped a poop or something, but I guess he went to lunch, or ran some errands," I said. "It's been hours."

She smiled and shrugged, and asked me to describe the guy. Then she dropped his stuff into a box that was already full, behind her desk.

In the big city everyone's a stranger. Most are decent people, not looking to swipe your stuff or stab you in the gut, but sheesh, it's not like we live in a 'society' or something. You can't just casually trust a stranger as much as that guy trusted me.


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  1. Vis-à-vis your comment above, here are Sir Tom Waits and Lady Bette Midler singing "I Never Talk To Strangers". I think this was recorded sometime in the 40s. I'm a sucker for harmony, a sucker for Tom Waits, a sucker for Bette Midler, and a recovering romantic. Listen and enjoy.



    1. And what the hell. Here's another Tom Waits song. Tom was at his best before he got married: this is from an early single-Tom album. It would be played at my memorial service, but I'm just having a sprinkling of ashes sans musical accompaniment.

      Here's Shiver Me Timbers by Sir Tom Waits:


    2. I'm gonna disagree that Waits was BETTER before he got married. They were different eras, different sounds. Equally excellent, in my opinion. But the shift over the course of Blue Valentine to Heartattack and Vine to Swordfishtrombones is pretty jarring. All three are great, though.

    3. Captain, I'll delope. I should have said that I greatly prefer the unmarried Waits. Of course, he was also a younger man. I prefer the simplicity of the earlier albums, but I can also hear greatness in the later ones. He got more complex in both instrumentation and lyric, but your statement is more accurate. Thanks for calling me on this.

      See also, San Diego Serenade.


    4. One more comment on the road with Jack and Neal: Tom is two months older than me for what it's worth. We sort of grew up together in different worlds. I think, by a long way, that Small Change and Foreign Affairs are Tom's two best albums, and that it isn't really that close. Find a clunker on either disc: there just isn't one; every song shines through the cigarette smoke like a polished piano in a downstairs bar.

      Nice to run across another fan.

      with respect,


    5. I agree that Small Change is his best. Foreign Affairs I never was all that into. I'll do a relisten, I'd say it's among my least-heard of his. I think Nighthawks at the Diner is close to his best as well. I'd go with Rain Dogs next, I think, Maybe Bone Machine.

    6. I looked back at the track list for Small Change and am slightly embarrassed to admit that I think I know all the lyrics to every song. Man, I must have played that record until it had naked grooves. Pretty much the same for Foreign Affairs. I regret losing Tom after Blue Valentine. I just loved his music and we parted on difficult terms. We were both young and revolution was in the air. The nights were hot. We went our own ways.


    7. A foreign affair, juxtaposed with a stateside
      And domestically approved romantic fancy,
      Is mysteriously attractive due to circumstances,
      Knowing it will only be parlayed into a memory


    8. Tom Waits. Even I who know nothing of music and less of poetry knew that. :)


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