Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Friend as Stranger

WAG #3 Prompt: A New Friend:
Sit somewhere that you can watch strangers passing by.  Choose someone that you
don't know, but you can imagine being friends with.  Describe them in concrete terms,
particularly whatever it is about them you find appealing (or unappealing!)  Feel
free to also write what you imagine that makes you warm to them, but don't forget
to describe reality as well!

There's a glare from the window at the other side of the square cafe section in
Barnes & Noble today.  It's a bright, warm day in Clearwater and I've ordered a
Cafe Mocha, which selection, as fate would have it, gives me a discount on a slice
of Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, as if I needed any further motivation. The cafe
section is probably about 50 feet square with the windows making up most of the
east wall, thus accounting for the glare.  I'm sitting opposite that window and
near the railing which separates the cafe section from the store proper.  There are
probably about 20 people right now, segregated in groups so that they are equidistant
from one another; a phenomenon I see quite often in public places. I quickly survey
the assemblage to see what my "friend" options are and settle on two right away.

I say "two" because I notice that I already know one person who is sitting at the
table next to me; a table hosting about eight ladies interested in knitting and
I do not count her. One of my prospects is a youngish, maybe twenty-something,
boy sitting at a two-top next to the window. He seems to be studying but is also
listening to something like an ipod. His facial expressions betray the pendulum-like
swing of attention from his written material to his aural stimulus.  The other
option is half of a pair of women, also on the east wall, but in the north corner,
who, by the looks of the large red reference-type book on the table and the note
paper carpeting the study surface, are intent on their subject.

The twenty-something boy evinces an air of spontaneity and fun; imagined, perhaps,
because of his tousled hair and obvious interaction with whatever he's listening to.
The woman, probably also in her late twenties, has her hair pulled back in a ponytail
and is wearing a style of glasses recently made popular by a certain political
figure. She is wearing a patterned top in earth tones with a kind of a "v" neck and
blue jeans. She seems to smile often and interact easily with her companion as they
study their subject. This prospect has a slight overbite, which is evident as she
laughs but it's not too distracting. The shape of her face, the clean lines of her
hair pulled back, the offer implicit in her "v" neck top, and her glasses suggest
to me someone with whom I might be able to have an interesting conversation.

In both of these "prospects" there is also, un-articulated but conspicuously present,
the rule whereby I choose a "friend."  It is this that occupies most of my attention.
I discover that the young lady is presented to me as more than offering suckle,
indeed, she is promising it.  "How is she doing that?" I ask myself; and "what is
appresented in my perception of the young man?" I continue. In both cases, at least
for me here and now, I do not see the individuals before me; I see illustrated my
current vulnerability, needs, or relevances (remember last week's post?).  In the
one, I see longing for a self-affirming, intimately adoring embrace--a sort of
motherly "yes," while in the other there is the "running out to play" motivation.

In the end, I pick the woman, but not because of any promises, explicit or implicit.
I look up at her frequently and catch her now studying, now talking to her friend,
now laughing or smiling. It is not by virtue of any of these things, however, but
rather because of a "recognition response" in me.  There is some signal that "goes
off" when I see her; a signal that says, "yes, this would be a match" and I am left
alone to discern my own motives if I want to discover that to which she would be a
match.  Today, she is a match for conversation. I can imagine a conversation but,
introducing myself as a philosopher has been, historically, a real conversation

She leaves her table and takes the long way around the counter to leave the cafe;
she may be headed to look for a book, although it is more likely that it is the
restroom. Roy Orbison's song springs to mind on her trip back; you know, the one
where he says "but wait, what do I see? Is she coming back to me?"

"Hi, my name's Sara; is that Husserl you're reading?"


  1. I like that! I also like her overbite. I'm not sure why. I suppose it's the idea of a slight flaw, or at the very least something not-quite-barbie.

    Sounds wonderful!

  2. Good piece, both as observation and as introspection. Well written.

  3. You expressed something very well, something I have tried to convey less successfully. The section starting with "In both cases, at least for the me here and now ..." was so truthful and something people rarely admit. I admired this piece very much. And while I am not a real philosopher, I thoroughly enjoy long philosophical conversations, and would be willing to bet your announcement would encourage as many conversations as it deters. And what better place to address it than a book store?

    Good luck!

  4. I like this! Very nice. I've noticed these writing exercises really bring out our individual writer's voices. :)

  5. Like Nixy, I like the overbite. It makes her seem very real, somehow.

    Well done!

  6. I do like it, especially your internal conversation, but I noticed that "wearing a style of glasses recently made popular by a certain political figure" isn't exactly a concrete description.

    Of course, we're supposed to convey a feeling through the description, so this type of description is effective IF we know whether you like that "certain political figure." Apparently you do. I wonder if that's why you decided that she would be your friend? ;)

  7. Great post! I love the details of light and shadow and people.