Once again I was minding my own business in a public place – brain elsewhere because I had just delivered a research paper while feeling ever-so-queasy from a little too much wine and a few too many Elvis sightings the evening before. I was in a city far from home – not Vegas but the other Elvis city. I am never completely aimless or preoccupied when I’m in a strange city, because that’s just not good business, but I was sort of slumping along in my smarty-pants suit heading back to the conference center after a respite from the noise and hot air of too many brains talking too much.
A youngish man, 31 years old as it turns out, swooped in beside me, his pencil behind his ear, notebook at his side. He matched his pace to mine and looked at me. Since I wanted to be able to describe him to the police after he ran off with my purse, I looked back at him. I’m a naturally friendly person, and maybe nefarious people are less inclined to rob nice folks. So I took a chance. I smiled at him, a little social smile. A smile that said I see you walking here next to me on this fine spring day, Stranger.
He blurted out his line: “You look young.”
I didn’t falter, but I thought, Where can this backhanded comment possibly lead? Because friends, I am not particularly young and his statement about my youthful appearance sounded insultingly surprised. I was willing to play this through. I had the time, and people are so fascinating, aren’t they? I said, “Oh?”
This person hiked up his oversized jeans and looked awkward. I looked around to see if he had associates sneaking up on us for this riveting conversation. Nope. He said, “I mean, you have all that white hair in there,” and he gestured to the front of his hair – where mine has turned mostly white. I guess he figured I might not know what he meant. As though nearing middle age women don’t notice the constant encroachment of the white. He continued, “You have all that gray hair, but your face looks so young. It doesn’t match.”
I smiled pretty big at him because I was really, truly amused. I said, “That’s the joy of life keeping me looking young.” He seemed confused. He shook his head and looked at the ground. He attempted to clarify his point and said , “Well, I’m 31.” I thought, And so?
I realized that I had no idea what was going on, and I decided to end the social engagement. “Time does pass,” I told him. I accelerated my walk and he peeled off to the side, joining some friends at a trolley stop. He told me to have a nice day.
It is a week later, and I still can’t figure out what was going on. The street I was on is notorious for unsavory party-city activities. The goal in shops, restaurants, and from folks on the street is to separate tourists from their money and/or self respect. The person sure swooped in on me like he was going to lay down a sales pitch line about his “cause” which just needed some financial support. But instead of any of that sordid business, he and I talked about time passing, aging, and the joy of life. Does it even really matter what was going on?