[for background see Talk is Cheap, Listening is Free]
Remember Parents’ Weekend your freshmen year of college? Are you thinking of the belly button and/or nose piercing you had to hide, how your mom wouldn’t shut up about how you’d gained the Freshman Fifteen and/or needed a hair cut, how your dad mortified you in front of the cute girl and/or guy from Intro to Sociology?
I went to college in Massachusetts, 3,000 miles across the country, away from my parents in San Francisco. In addition to the blessed 3 hour time difference which insured never called me before noon, the distance also meant they never made an appearance at Parents’ Weekend. My memories of Parents’ Weekend are only of meeting my friends’ parents. How meeting one’s parents provides so much information about a their past and how they grew into their present self. After Parents’ Weekend, I felt like I understood people better.
In post-college life, it’s rare to meet people’s parents. When meeting a stranger, there is often absolutely no common ground on which to begin. No mutual friend, no class you’ve both taken, no institution you share. You both live in New York City, that’s something. Something you share with 6 million other people.
So you size up a stranger by their appearance, the way they talk, their “vibe”. Even from a distance, when I could barely decipher the print on his sign, I could tell The Free Listener had a good vibes. Approaching him and chatting only confirmed this.
As I stood talking with him, I was fascinated by people’s reactions. Some shook their heads and chuckled. Others stared in bewilderment before snapping a picture. The majority averted their eyes, “If I catch his gaze, he might follow me and listen to my breathing! If I ignore him he’ll leave me alone!” On the streets of New York, one is crazy until proven sane. Vibes are much more a California thing.
A man stopped approached us. He was my parents’ age, but unlike my folks, he seemed to be holding on to a hippy past. He was outfitted in a worn leather jacket, jeans paired with worn-in boots, an a backwards newspaper-boy cap. His speech was peppered with “man” the way a teenager’s Facebook is with “lol”. “What’s this all about, man?” he asked. The Listener told him (the short version of what I told you in Part 1). The man smiled. “That is the coolest, man. I gotta hand it to ya. This is really great. In my youth, I should’ve done this. Man, people used to tell me I was a great listener. Now, in my advancing age, I’ve forsaken listening for talking.” His presence was gruff yet extremely charismatic. Good vibes. I got the impression he’d traded listening for talking because his stories were better than any one else’s.
“So what are you doing in the park?” the Listener asked, “On your way somewhere to enjoy this beautiful day?” This seemed to be his go-to line to get people to talk about themselves. “Yes, he is on his way somewhere!” said a woman standing several paces away. It appeared she had kept walking and had to back track when she realized the man, no doubt her husband, was no longer with her. Her demeanor pleasant, her smile warm, she was the kind of person you just know gives good hugs. Good vibes. Beneath a knit red beret (you know I have a thing for hats), wavy gray hair fell to her shoulders. Her sweater matched the hat- I imagined them gifts from a dear, crafty friend. Sparkling blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses completed the look. She was, by all accounts, adorable. I wanted to sip green tea with her at Alice’s Tea Cup while she told me the story of how she met her husband.
Standing beside her was a young man my age, their son. From the bemused look on their faces, it was clear this had been happening all day. “Dad’s at it again! He has to talk to everyone.” It looked like a situation of mom and dad visiting their grown up son who now lives on his own in the big city. I hoped so, because the son had caught my eye. “He doesn’t pass up a chance to talk,” he said to me, in that apologetic way you use when your parents vaguely embarrass you, “Are you with this guy?” he asked, gesturing to the Listener. “Nope,” I said, “I just saw his sign and had to stop.” He smiled and his eyes twinkled. I’m a sucker for what I can only describe as “the tangible twinkle”, a spark. In that moment, I felt a connection. He was a bit harder to peg than his parents, but I knew I wanted to know more.
The question “Where are you from?” was raised, as it always it, and the reply, from Hippy Dad, was “out west”. I had the hunch from the moment he’d said his first “man” that they were from California. “Where out west?” I asked. “California.” he confirmed. “Born and raised in San Francisco,” I grinned. “Get out! We’re visiting from Santa Cruz.” We were all smiling now. People from the Bay Area just “get” each other. “I should’ve know. The only people to stop and talk to the “Free Listening” guy are from California.”
“Where do you live in the city?” Hippy Dad asked me. I pointed west.
“Over there.” I said, vaguely. “Well, not right over there. Way west.”
“Well it can’t be that far west, or you’d live in a submarine!” he said.
“That I don’t.” I laughed. “You’re right, I’m not that far west!”
“Do you feel the spirit of John Lennon’s in the neighborhood?” He asked, proving his penchant for the past.
“It’s funny you mention that. I’m actually having a Yellow Submarine theme party next weekend.”
Adorable Mom said to her son, “Oh isn’t that funny? Such coincidence.”
We chatted some more and then they departed, never having said where they were on their way too. Before he left, Hippy Dad said to the Listener “Man, you’re doing a great thing here. You must know that, right? I mean, you’re attracting energy like this.” he said, motioning to me. “Those colors, are just…yeah,” he said, appreciating my bright blue jacket complemented by a fuchsia scarf and matching sunglasses (as seen in my April Fools post), “You’re like a ray of sunshine.” Peace. Take care. Enjoy your stay in the city. Great talking with you. With that, this awesome little family, emanating nothing but the best good vibes, walked away.
Later, as I walked home from the park, I found myself thinking about the son. I had talked to his dad way more than him, but I couldn’t help feeling the connection. He was cute (but not too cute and not really “my type” looks wise: both things that get me into trouble), smart, and seemed sweet. Good vibes at least. Plus, his parents were so cool. That’s really what cemented my interest.
You had the perfect opportunity! Why didn’t you say, ‘I’m having a Yellow Submarine party, and you should come.’ That would have been so easy! I’d been at home for about 30 minutes and I was still thinking about this missed connection. I didn’t even know his name! For a second I considered craigslist Missed Connections but dismissed the idea quickly with a Yeah…no. There was nothing to be done, but I knew if I sat there I’d just keep thinking about. So I got up. And embarked on a wild goose chase.
The thing is, with good vibes behind it, sometimes your shot in hell finds that wild goose. Stay tuned.