Striding down a sidewalk on the Upper West Side, we are a buzz of brainstorming. The world around us blurs, our conversation becoming micro-focused. Rarely do we converse with such intent. We’re beyond the usual gossip, beyond updates of personal life. Hands fly in abandon, gestures to illustrate meaning beyond vocabulary. A dialogue between two best friends, delving deep into plans for the future. Hopes, dreams, goals followed by strategies and game plans. Charlotte and I are in the same place: both walking down Broadway, both looking for change. Not straining our eyes for dropped dimes in the cross walk, no, I’m talking life-altering change. This year the urge escalated from want to need: we now need change. We’re both a bit terrified of it, but having your best friend by your side makes you braver.
Having each entered our late twenties, it’s as good a time as any for a career re-evaluation. In true millennial form, neither I nor Charlotte know exactly what it is we want to do. We are speaking a stream of consciousness, what ever pops to mind may produce something with potential. Not thinking before I speak is highly unusual, I only feel comfortable doing such with people I trust. Unplugged and uncensored, we’re in rare form.
A nondescript middle-aged woman passes us on the street. I would not have noticed her, but as she passes, she speaks directly to us. My jaw drops. Charlotte doesn’t hear what she says, assumes it’s something nice, and flashes this stranger a well-wishing smile.
“Thank you for your unsolicited input, ma’am!” I yell at the woman’s back as she hurries down the street. Charlotte looks at me and sees my face contorted in shock.
“Wait, what did she say?” Charlotte asks, alarmed.
“She said, ‘If you stopped saying “like” so much, maybe you could get better jobs’!”
“Are you serious? That’s what she said?”
“Oh yes she did.” I reply angrily.
“I smiled at her! I thought she said something nice! I can’t believe she said that! What a bitch!”
It was a true Rude New Yorker moment. A moment that made it apparent I am not a true New Yorker. A true New Yorker has no other response to such a butt into personal business than a bellowed, “FUCK YOU!” I chose simpering sarcasm. My mother taught me the cliché, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” My mother, who abhors the over-use of the word “like”. Her entire family does. I felt ashamed. If my relatives heard me at that same moment, I imagined their reactions would be similar to the woman. Though having manors, they would keep the thought to themselves. Suddenly I felt as if (not “like”!) I was letting down my entire family.
While Charlotte runs through a string of shoulda-saids (“If you stopped butting into other people’s conversations maybe you’d be less of a bitch”), I recall family dinner conversations. My mother and aunt devote entire courses to discussion of the deplorable depleting vocabulary of my generation. Their biggest pet peeve is (I’m, like, totally serious) the over-use of the word “like”. Now I have been publicly called out as part of the problem rather than the solution. How will I ever look them in the eyes again?
Charlotte carries on (“Since no one LIKES you, of course you hate the word!”), as I fall to deeper in a downward spiral of thought. Could I be a bigger disappointment? I’m flailing to find a career that holds any future, failing to find a man who deserves a place at my family dinner table. Now I can’t even speak my native language properly! I don’t even have that! I’m a disgrace to my family name!
All this from a passing comment from a busy-body stranger.
I speak as I please to my best friends, I don’t care if you LIKE it!
Honestly, I’m glad for this encounter. This ill-mannered woman made me realize I need to be in better touch with my family, even if I am a disappointment. Add that to the list of life-altering changes. Now excuse me while I make a phone call to both my mother and aunt and dazzle them with impeccable vocabulary and laudable syntax.
What was the last “unsolicited input” you received from a stranger? Do people do this outside NYC?