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Better a Nerd Than One of the Herd

July 10, 2016

“So you’re a little weird? Work it! A little different? OWN it! Better to be a nerd than one of the herd!”
-Mandy Hale

Last Saturday I spent a very weird hour at the laundromat down the street. Trips to the laundromat have been part of my life since moving into my charming apartment nearly 3 years ago. And they’ve been the source of loads of interesting and sometimes very sketchy experiences.

Last week’s excursion was…super interesting. Approximately 10 minutes into the wash cycle a guy came in, talking in my general direction within 5 seconds of his entry. I was legitimately catching up on texts and emails from a very busy week and was also wary about engaging in conversation. You never know with some people and I’ve heard more stories and life philosophies at the laundromat than I care to mention. [Okay, there was the one conversation with a young 20’s guy who was high on something but assured me that drugs were mostly out of his life after seeing his best friend die in a drug-related transaction. And for a living he did things that he probably shouldn’t mention in such a setting but was on the cusp of making it big as an entrepreneur. And we wonder why my parents bought me self-defense pepper spray for Christmas.]

Anyhow, I digress. This guy, let’s call him Al, comes in and pretty much doesn’t stop talking at me. He was the most persistent, one-sided conversationalist I’ve ever met. At some point my guard came down and I thought “if I can’t beat him, why not join him?” We talked about politics, religion, families, a tiny bit about my career, his hometown of Brooklyn, and cynically (on his end) people in general. Al offered me wine – I declined. After putting some quarters in my dryers he wandered out promising to be back. A few minutes later he ambled back from the Smith’s Fuel station across the street with ice cream sandwiches for us. It is likely the only time in my life I will have shared ice cream sandwiches with an eccentric stranger in a laundromat.

Shortly after finishing the ice cream sandwich I asked him what he did for a living. He’d already referenced a house and the fact that he had money in his pocket that needed spending. His response? “I’m a criminal.” I laughed out loud and responded with “I might believe you…but does hearing this make me complicit in your crimes?” We agreed that it didn’t since I don’t know his name or his crimes. He did eventually (vaguely) describe them and it sounds like he considers himself some sort of Robin Hood. Whatever. I was still dubious of his status of a criminal until I asked if there was any particular reason he needed to buy a new outfit, something he’d mentioned a few times in the wacky conversation. Turns out there was no particular reason except that he had a bigger wad of bigger bills than I typically see stashed in his cargo shorts pocket and he wanted to spend some of it.

I still haven’t decided who I crossed paths with that day and really what I thought of him. I was thoroughly surprised by our conversation and by its uh, wacky is really the only word that keeps coming to mind, nature. And the encounter did leave me thinking about how much energy is squandered on “fitting in” and being like everyone else and rubbing off some of our unique nuances that the crowd may not like. This is something I’m still working on. There are definitely people around and situations in which I feel totally like myself but others…not so much. I went thru a phase of talking tons with my sister about what it looks like to “be comfortable in your own skin” and while I don’t use that phrase so much I still think about it a lot. I’m glad for the people who are so easy to just be with and for all that I do know about myself. But I could definitely let more of my quirks show, regardless of the social response.

So to wrap up…Al, thanks for being yourself. It was interesting meeting you:) Quirky as you might be you were super interesting to talk with and more generous than most. Might be because you are spending stolen money but still… And to the rest of us, let’s not TRY harder to be ourselves, let’s rather stop trying to rub all our uniqueness off. Should this mean you end up in a laundromat talking at a helpless fellow-patron have the decency to buy them an ice cream sandwich:)