I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I met my friends. My best friend will tell you that I stopped by her dorm room looking for her roommate, whom I sort of knew and was hoping to befriend. But Anna wasn’t there, so I introduced myself to Christi. Only, it turns out, we’d met before. Oops! When I was working a summer camp, a guy introduced himself to the group with this ice breaker: “My name is Christopher, and I had my first taste of synthetic maple syrup last night.” I immediately thought: “I want to meet that guy.” He turned out to be totally awesome. Autumn used to be my boss. When I first met her, she was wearing some wild blue eye shadow, and I thought, “I don’t know about this chick.” But now, I adore her and her dramatic eye makeup.
I’m new-ish to the central Arkansas area, and I don’t feel like it’s home yet. So, I’ve been trying to meet people. There are problems right off the bat, and they’re mostly my fault. First, most of the things I like to do are fairly solitary activities: movies, TV, reading, going to plays. Second, I tend to be cautious when I meet new people. While I have quirky stories about making friends because of syrup, there are others that end with me saying things like: “He said he was leaving town, and if he doesn’t do it—and I mean today—I’ll kill him!” So, I tend to be a bit reserved in the early stages.
I’ve been trying to be more social in the last few weeks. For reasons that escape me now, I tried speed dating. To be perfectly fair, most of the guys were really nice but not my type. I was relieved to get to my last six-minute “date.” I introduced myself and gave some of the patter I’d worked out over the evening. I mentioned that I used to teach English but decided to take a break from the classroom. When I finished, the guy started off by saying, “Now, don’t get me wrong, but…” I smirked a little as he pointed out that teachers get summers off, and even when you taught, you still got days off during the school year. I opened my mouth to speak, but he barreled on. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for teachers. I think they don’t get paid enough, BUT…” He probably could have saved his disclaimers. I’m pretty sure I got him just right.
One of the odd things about teaching is that when I told people that was how I made a living, they took it as an invitation to tell me how much they hated school or about some terrible teacher that they once had who crushed their dreams or ruined their GPA. Once, as I was writing a fairly large check for a gym membership, the salesman asked what I did for a living and then proceeded to tell me how much he hated English in school. My pen froze in the middle of a zero, and I gave him a dirty look. Like, I’m cutting a check here, dude. Can we save the part where you talk about how you hate my profession? I mean, don’t get me wrong, but…I haven’t paid you yet.
At the end of six minutes, my date and I were done, which I think suited everyone just fine. My next brilliant plan for meeting people was to go to a public showing of Dr. Strangelove. I like the movie, and I figured if other people who liked it showed up, I already have something in common with them. If it’s a bust, then I see a good movie, return some books, and go home. I thought I had nothing to lose, but I was still disappointed when the only other person there was a very sweet Southern lady old enough to be my grandmother. We said hello, and after some small talk, I picked up a book I’d recently started.
“What are you reading?” she asked.
“It’s about a guy who’s a loser, and he decides he wants to not be a loser anymore.”
“Ah. Is it funny?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of funny.”
“I think that’s good. It’s easier to stick with a book when it’s funny,” she said. I asked what she was reading, and it turned out she was working on a book about the Middle East.
“Is it funny?” I asked. She stared at me blankly until I started to worry that not only was my little joke not amusing, but I had maybe offended her.
When the movie started, it was still just the two of us (although there would be a grand total of 4 by the end). Realizing it was shot in black and white, she said, “Oh, this is an old movie!” So much for having something in common.
Finding my niche in a new town takes time, and sometimes I get impatient. Still, I’ll keep trying because it has been pointed out to me that people aren’t going to pop by my apartment to introduce themselves and watch Project Runway with me. And if someone did, well, that would be creepy and weird. If you were thinking about doing that, please don’t. I’m sure you’re very nice, but I will totally call the cops.