Talk is Cheap, Listening is Free

Yes! And..” This is the first rule of improvisation. You accept your scene partner’s offer (for example: We’re bloggers updating our blog!) and build on it (Yes! And if we don’t post by the end of the day, New York City will collapse!) It’s teamwork, crucial to trusting your partner, and as long as you Yes! And.. your scene won’t suck.

Sounds easy enough. The problem is, especially as New Yorkers, we have the opposite utterly engrained in us: “No! Fuck off!” If we Yes! Anded the world, we would be conned, abused, and likely sold into human trafficking. Yes, but the concept of being open to saying yes isn’t a bad one, as long as you combine it with a healthy dose of street smarts. At the least you’ll end up with a better attitude. You may even end up with the prospect of a date and something remarkable to write about in your blog. Of course I speak from experience.

I was walking home through Central Park when I saw something out of the ordinary from all those other sitting in the park in the beautiful spring weather.

He was a friendly looking guy seated by a cardboard sign with the words “Free Listening” drawn on it. I couldn’t help but smile. We exchanged “Hellos” as I walked by him. I got about 10 yards before I stopped dead in my tracks. “You can’t just walk by a sign like that!” I thought to myself. “Yes! And.. I will turn around, talk to a stranger, and see what he’s about.”

“Well you caught my curiosity. I didn’t get too far. This is my double-take.” I said to the guy with the sign.

“Glad I caught your attention,” he smiled, “Thanks for stopping.” He was younger than me, likely still in school (yes, I learned, and he’s studying nutrition not psychology.)  Growing up in San Francisco and going to a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, I have seen a lot of people with signs. Many of these sign holders are attention seeking: annoying at best, dangerous at worst, even if their sign is for a good cause. The sign holder seated in front of me was quite the opposite: calm, unthreatening, his demeanor inviting.

“So what’s this about?” I asked, an entirely unoriginal question, one he was asked no less than four times in the moments I stood talking to him. He just decided one day to sit in Central Park and offer his ear to anyone who wanted to take it. A lot of people just want someone who will listen, he’s a good listener, he made a sign, and there you go.  That’s the short of it. “Do you just listen, or do talk too?” I asked. The Listener laughed, “Sure, I talk.”

Perhaps surprising for an actress, though certainly not for a blogger, I much prefer writing down my stories to speaking them aloud. I was much more interested in hearing his story than telling him mine-I already know my stories. He tried several times to get me to a story, I mostly resisted and instead asked questions. He was quite obliging with answers.

He started sitting in the park with the sign summer 2011, really just for fun. The day I met him was the first time he’s sat in 2012. You will find him on weekends when the weather is nice. He doesn’t have a schedule, but he usually tweets his location (@thefreelistener). He generally sits by the south end of the park, he listens to a lot of runners and tourists. He’d never charge for listening. There is no “catch”. He doesn’t do it to pick up girls, to the dismay of some ladies. He’s never turned anyone down. Yes, he’s had some ranters and ravers. He listened to a guy who sat for an hour telling a string of one-liner jokes that got uncomfortably racist. Yes, he is sort of similar to the “Free Hugs” people, but he never invades personal space.

“Do you have a blog?” I asked. Of course I was thinking about blogging
“Not yet. Everyone tells me I should. I’ve been thinking about starting one.”
“You should. I’d read it. You’d have great stuff to write about. Though, I guess you couldn’t exactly blog about what people tell you. Is there listening confidentiality?”
“Haha, yes there is! That should be the fine print on my sign. Do you have a blog?”
Yes I do,” I said, “And I’m going to write about you in it, if that’s all right.”
“Go for it. What’s your blog about?”
He had me. You want to get me to talk? Just ask me about my blog. So I told him all about New York Cliché. He wrote down the URL and promised to check it out. I promised to follow him on Twitter.

We kept out promises.

Followed later by:, inspiring bloggers (maybe just one) since April 8th.

I haven’t even reached the best part of this story. Stay tuned.

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About New York Cliche

NYC lifestyle blog by Mary Lane. Events, adventures, epic mistakes, dating, life, humor. A 20-something trying to make it (and make out) in the city of dreams.

29 thoughts on “Talk is Cheap, Listening is Free

  1. I’d rather listen to new stories than rehash my own, too. This is really cool, and seems like something uniquely NYC (though SF isn’t far off, we had a guy who sat on a corner on Haight street and wrote “free poetry” on his typewriter). Checking out his blog now!

  2. This is so awesome! Inspiring anyone towards a good thing is nothing short of fabulous!

    1. If you’re walking in south Central Park, keep your eye out! Follow him on twitter if you want to know when he’s out 🙂

  3. I love this guy. What an adorably cute idea. I don’t know that I would do that just because when I listen to people talk about their problems, I always want to fix them and people don’t really want or need that from a stranger.

    1. I AM THE SAME! I am such a fixer, and when I was talking to him, I totally wanted him to give me suggestions. I’ve never been one of those “I just want to talk” people, I allllways want feedback (ha ha on my blog too, so thanks for commenting!)

    1. I was impressed by his idea. Glad you enjoyed reading and hope you come back for more of the story!

  4. man, that guy is awesome, I wish he’d come to Perth (or Australia for that matter) – I think my friends are sick of listening to me…

    1. I hate that feeling. haha if I see him again, I’ll suggest an Australia trip! Maybe he’s looking for an excuse to go!

  5. that’s so awesome! The thing new yorkers is you guys are pretty frightening even to each other but it’s awesome he took your advice 🙂

    1. It’s true, we can be very uninviting and closed off to everyone. It can be hard to break through that shield.

  6. I have seen people holding up signs that say “Free Hugs” here in Chicago; I saw a group of them out on Michigan Avenue a few years ago. They seemed nice, but I didn’t hug any of them. I think that living in the city for so long has made me suspicious of strangers, even the ones that seem nice.

    1. I never go for the “Free Hugs”. That’s an invasion of personal space, and I totally question their motives. This seemed more selfless in a way, plus he offered a good amount of time and information to feel him out.

      1. Actually, they’re not so threatening, especially when they come in bunches and you can choose which person you want a hug from. That has actually brightened my day more than once. Just saying.

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