Parking lot conversations

I spend a lot of time thinking about story ideas. I have loads of notebooks filled with poorly thought out story arcs. Which means I’m like most people who scribble in notebooks – hundreds of indecipherable pages on a one way trip to the dead letter office. Hi Michael Stipe.

I went out tonight with the intention to write, but I think that’s code for inviting distractions. I went for a PBR, got out of my car (don’t worry, the next 2 hour stop was a coffee shop 100 meters from said PBR), and a dude near the door called out, “Hey, guy, are you from Washington?” Hmm, ok…guard up.

“Yea, I’m from Washington.”

He then said something about seeing my plates and thinking I looked like someone he knew growing up. “Are you in your 40s?”

“I am.” At this point I was balancing being polite and keeping my distance.

“You don’t look it.”

“It’s dark. Hides the greys.”

It got a little weird after that. He explained that he used to live in Paradise Valley, but he didn’t like his neighbors’ ignorance.

“Ahh, that can be tough.”

“Yea. I can get a little weird when I’m off my meds. I was walking my dog the other day…I’ve never hit my dog…”

“Oh man, please don’t tell me you hit your dog.”

“No. But I can’t discipline him. He pees and shits everywhere. I was walking him, and he always lunges, tries to run off. I need to be better about not letting him do that. A neighbor was out and saw my dog lunging. My neighbor cussed and said I needed to control my dog. I just glared back at him, and then I did something weird. I took the leash and swung my dog around. The neighbor cursed at me more. I grabbed a rock and sprinted towards him, but then I turned back and put the rock down. I need to find counseling. I get so overwhelmed.”

“Right. It can get overwhelming. The key is knowing you need to talk to someone. You can find that someone.”

“It got so bad that I had to go to the ER. They had the police escort me out.”

“I see. Don’t let that stop you from finding someone to talk to.”

A few people walked out of the bar, some to leave, some to smoke. I figured that was a good time to wind down the conversation. “It was nice talking to you, I’m going to grab a beer.”

“I like to do that, too. I don’t perform so well the next day, though.”

“That’s often the way of it. Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

I hope he got home safe. Any role I might have played in helping him get home safe ended at the recounting of the swinging of the dog. At that point I was thinking of animal cruelty hotlines and keeping a clear lane to the door of the bar.

I like the place I went, but I didn’t stay long. I missed the sweet spot. The quiet spot. There were three people at the bar who were deep into a conversation about dental work, pulled teeth, dentures, etc. That’s a valid conversation. We’re all going to have our hearts broken, and we’re all going to have some unpleasant dentist visits. But here’s my philosophy on bars – one of the golden rules is that you don’t impose your conversation on everyone else. Even in the smallest dive bars, you can talk without making the entire bar party to your conversation.

“You know Jack, right? He just had his bottom row of teeth pulled. Full set of dentures. I went for a partial, I want something to hook into. I’m telling you, I can eat steak and jerky.”

That went on for the 30 minutes I was there. Again, that’s real world stuff right there, one of the reasons you go to the neighborhood bar. But if you’re a shout-talker, talk about the weather or how cute your dog is.

The evening reminded me of something I’ve told my nieces but need to tell them again and again. It’s important to be polite and courteous, but context and location is important. If you’re in a spot you don’t want to be in, do whatever you have to to not be in that spot, to get off the X. If necessary, send an apology and flowers the next day, off the X.