on being a hypocritePosted: June 21, 2011
Last week I was at dinner with a friend, seated outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. A man passing by paused briefly at our table to comment that I was wearing the wrong shirt for this college town and then laughing, went on his way. The exchange lasted less than 10 seconds, but from the moment the man paused at our table, my friend had turned away to ignore him. I was surprised, because she’s a nice person and the man was definitely non-threatening. Then she made the comment that she still wasn’t used to “southerners who want to talk to everybody” because being from New England, it was kind of a foreign concept.
I laughed. In my head I scoffed at the notion that you wouldn’t talk to someone who was talking to you (forgetting for a moment that in a lot of cases this is a perfectly legitimate reaction). I think I probably also thought something like “geez, northerners” while ruminating on how southerners are generally a friendly, if chatty, bunch. I usually don’t stand on the southern soapbox, my mom being from Pennsylvania and all, but in this situation I thought it was warranted.
Yes well, about that.
On Saturday I was standing outside my favorite bookstore, reading a sign in their window, when a voice a few feet behind me said “I saw you at the library.” I turned to encounter a man whose delivery had not been one of funny coincidence (like “hey! you were at the library this morning too!”) but one of flat affect that off the bat made him seem creepy. I had, in fact, been at the library, but I hadn’t seen him. I smiled and quickly tried to come up with an exit strategy. Deciding the bookstore was the best bet, I was reaching for the door when he said “I write screenplays.”
Southerner or not, I decided that “great, bye!” was probably a rude response, and given the setting (12 in the afternoon on the sidewalk of a very safe street) I was likely not in any danger. So I proceeded to ask him about his supposed line of work, which yielded that he was actually a writer of horror screenplays, and did I like horror? Um, no. Definitely not. The scariest movie I’ve ever seen was Gremlins, when I was 3, and I have been terrified of pretty much everything ever since. Well that’s ok, he writes comedy too.
At this point I thought I had fulfilled all conversational obligations and was trying to extricate myself when he began telling me about the most recent comedy he’d written, about high school girls who try to hypnotize someone (each other? someone else? it wasn’t clear). And then he asked the clincher, “if you were trying to hypnotize someone, what would you use?”
Do you have a good answer to this question? I didn’t. While I stood, immobilized by competing thoughts (i.e. What kind of person asks that question? What would you use to hypnotize someone? and I should probably run screaming down this street) the door to the bookstore blessedly opened. I mumbled a hasty goodbye and practically leaped through the doorway into the store, prompting a few strange looks from the guys behind the counter.
After making sure that I wasn’t followed (yes, I have always wanted to be a secret agent), I paused to reflect on the extent to which I am a hypocrite. From here on out I advocate never speaking to anyone you don’t know, or watching horror movies, or anything involving hypnotism. This new policy will obviously require big changes in my life, so I’m going to go get started on that.
Southern soapbox, indeed.