I’m a nosy person, just going to get that totally undeniable fact out of the way. I like eavesdropping and staring and learning about lives that may never intersect with mine again. It’s addictive. I’m stuck in my head all the time, but when I listen to someone else’s life it’s a pretty welcome vacation.
I’m in tea shop–that happens a lot lately–and two people just came in. They looked like a couple, but their body language made it look like they weren’t terribly comfortable being close to each other: arms at sides, small steps to keep the distance socially acceptable, kind of like penguins.
The constituents of the couple-not-couple are a man penguin who looks like he’s trying to breach the distance between he and a lady penguin he walked in with. She’s doing most of the penguin steps to stay just a little farther from him than he wants to be. They’re at the counter ordering, and he keeps finding things to look at that are slightly to his right so he can point to them and get a bit closer to her. Does he think pointing is attractive? Maybe a book told him that pointing is one of those power moves that will make people swoon at the sheer masculinity of his outstretched finger. Does he think the finger will remind her of his penis? Is that the goal? Symbolically represent the genitals at every opportunity.
It’s not a date. She’s interviewing him. She keeps asking him pretty clear questions about his life and studies, but he’s responding to each of them by asking her the same questions back. She’s working and he’s flirting, but the pointer penguin has just got no game. His responses are clunky and hurried.
“Tell me about your major?”
“It’s uhh bio-engineering. Are you in school? What’s your major?”
She’s doing her job! Stop flirting! She invested in the conversation for the sake of the interview. Having to learn about you for an article does not constitute actually caring about your life. There are a select few people who genuinely care about you, and this woman is neither your parents nor your dog, so her interest likely extends exactly as far as her job needs it to. I’ve had to do interviews with a lot of different people, and it doesn’t go well if you respond to their attempts at normal conversation–or even a little over eager conversation–by being rigid and cold. Laughing at someone’s jokes puts them at ease. Answering their questions mostly shows that you’re willing to be an equal in the interview, two people talking instead of a researcher with their subject.
I don’t like the interviewee. He seems happy.
Oh, he just told her something that changes the way this interview might go, which could be good for me because I’ve got a lot of papers that I really wanted an excuse not to grade. He just told her that he actually lied to get into the interview. He graduated a few years ago but saw her and thought she was pretty, so he went along with the interview when she asked for it. No matter how well this interview goes in terms of flirtation and aggressive pointing, this guy just messed with her data. I’d have been more than annoyed with anyone who skewed my data just to chat with me when I was working on my thesis. I wouldn’t have wanted to go out with them, I would have wanted to throw them down a well. Imagine going to a car dealership, talking to someone who says they can sell you a car, test driving a car with that person, and then during the ride they tell you they aren’t a car salesman and you’re actually just driving their car.
Will he notice if I throw a paperclip at his head? Will he know I did it? I wonder if I look like the kind of person to keep paperclips with them. My jacket has zero tweed on it, so I think I’m safely undercover. I shouldn’t risk it though. What if hits his eye and he starts gushing gouts of blood all over their tea. The tea here is really good; I’d feel terrible for ruining it.
They’re getting along a bit more naturally now. It turns out they’re both from the same state, and now the interview seems a little less like a guy relentlessly hitting on a girl who is trying to do her job and more like they’re just chatting and one of them happens to be taking notes.
I still want to throw something at him though. He ruined her data. All the rapport in the world isn’t going to fix the fact that this interview probably won’t be that useful to her in whatever work she’s doing, but wait, it’s going to be ok. He has an ace that can repair any damage his deceit did to their relationship. He can paint over the blacked rails of this partially burned bridge. He just pulled the best question he could ever ask out of his hat. He’s saving the interaction. He’s going to make this relationship happen. This connection is getting formed whether she’s only talking to him to pay her rent or not.
“What are your favorite activities?”
He asked her about her favorite activities, and of course, the interview is saved. Nevermind that he lied to get in, that the data likely won’t be useful, or that she hasn’t been asking many questions since he dropped the not-a-student bomb. It doesn’t matter because he asked what her favorite activities are.
It’s really great to hear a question I use in my midterm evaluations worked into a real conversation. I ask my students what activities they liked from class. It seems pretty natural to do in that context. I actually call the stuff I do to teach “activities” because that’s the language I’ve been taught to use. My students recognize that language because it’s the language teachers have been using with them for years.
Strangely, when I go out for a drink, or when I play a board game, or go on a hike, or see a movie, or play with my cat, I do not think “Oh yes, I’ve certainly enjoyed this activity.” Is he nervous or just bad at talking?
This saga has removed any chance of me getting grading done. I came here to burn through a few papers because I like to do this dirty work in places where it’s very difficult for me to grow bitter. But no grading is going to get done. My students can wait. I need to keep listening to this fucking guy talk about activities. Are they going to talk about team building or pottery or planking? There are endless ways she could interpret this question and equally varied ways he could have intended it. An infinite number of alternate timelines have burst into existence from only this one question, this one hilariously vague, clunky dollar menu question.
She faltered for a second, said she likes listening to music, and then the talk died for a moment. I took a sip of my tea because I thought my little slurp would add to the tension in the room. There’s a tattoo shop down the hall. There’s a laser hair and tattoo removal place in the room across from the tattoo shop. I imagined I heard someone scream, but I can’t decide which one it could have come from.
The conversation was unsurprisingly boring for a while. That “activity” thing really slowed things down, but it seems that talking about the difference in their glasses has restored the eager back and forth to the pair. He’s talking about his eyesight now, and he’s clearly rehearsed the remarkable line he just plopped into the verbal soup pot:
“Yeah, I’m aiming for 20:10 vision. I think if I just will it, my vision will get better.”
Shit, dude, get Stevie Wonder here immediately. Why didn’t anyone ever think to just try not being blind anymore? My sight is actually getting worse–maybe from staring at screens 10 hours a day–but I’m glad I know how to fix it. I was worried about potentially getting glasses because I have poor self-control, and as a kid I liked setting leaves on fire with a magnifying glass. This guy has cured my eyes and prevented a lot of daytime arson with one simple line. He’s a hero. Statues of his noble countenance shall be erected in the town square.
They’re talking about lifestyles now. She is apparently pretty minimalist and doesn’t like owning a lot of things. He didn’t really offer his, but when she said she wasn’t terribly attached to stuff, he said “that’s really cool,” and “not many girls live like that.” Yeah, minimalism is pretty cool, man, but what’s this generalization about all women doing in there? I love it when my students start their papers with stuff like “Since time began…” because then I get to say something snarky on their draft like “I know marijuana has been a hot topic for a while, but I do not think our ancient relatives cared too much about it.”
They’re leaving. The interview and the conversation have come to an end. He has to go to work, and she just said she’s going to head out. I could overanalyze how the conversation ended. I could say this guy bounces between sounding like a tool or a manual for a slip ‘n slide (“fun activities for kids of all ages!”) but I won’t. He doesn’t seem that bad, other than having skewed her data, asked an annoying amount of questions during an interview she was conducting, all while having a really annoying face. But the two of them seem like they were getting along, which is cool.
But I still detest him for thinking he can heal blindness by believing hard enough.