The Comcast guy is here and I feel sort of weird.

It’s fine, but my apartment is so small that we have to pretty much be in the same room while he does his work.  And I do mine.  Sort of.  If this qualifies as work.  Me sitting three feet away from him and writing about him being here and me feeling weird about it. Why should this be weird?   I guess it’s the same kind of weird as when you go to a new gynecologist and you talk about travel.   No big deal, everything is casual. Did I leave anything out?  Anything weird?  Because once you live in a place for a while, you start forgetting about the weird stuff.  Maybe everything in here is weird.  How would I know?

Anyway It sort of reminds me of college.  Those first few days of freshman year when I realized that there would not be a bathroom door I could shut all the way, probably for the next four years.  It’s that awkward realization that whatever you need to do in there, probably somebody else is going to know about it.  No privacy.  And pretty soon, like in a matter of months, because you have no choice, this becomes normal.  And pretty soon after that, you and your hall-mates have made a chart complete with gold stars documenting the timing and frequency of your business.  It becomes a contest.  That’s all I’m going to say about that except that I think at some point, a winner was declared but I can’t remember what the rules were.  Or what exactly would qualify a person to “win” at that game.   But somebody did. Probably not me.

Personal space is variable, even with the same person, in different situations.  Yesterday I was at the Birchwood Cafe entirely minding my own business, sitting at a corner table with my laptop, and at some point a lady came and sat next to me at the  next table.  Actually I didn’t even notice her until  she asked if she could move her table farther away from mine.  Just because.  Because why?   Because, she said, she wanted more “privacy”.  Fine.  Go for it.  And she did.  Then a woman joined her later and they sat on the SAME SIDE of the table (odd) and I don’t remember what they talked about–partially because I don’t care, but because of her extra request for privacy, I actually tried to listen.   As far as I could tell, they were talking about dogs.

A couple of days ago I found myself in a different coffee shop, again minding my own business at the laptop, and suddenly I became aware of the other two women in there with me.  Partially because there was nobody else there at the moment.  But also because they had suddenly become very, very quiet.  They were doing that sort of rude whispering thing.  That thing where it’s kind of hard to even imagine how they are hearing each OTHER across the table, but the whispering is so urgent, and you are the ONLY OTHER person in there, it is clear that they have something VERY VERY important to discuss that it is imperative YOU NOT FIND OUT ABOUT.  I did not hear what they were saying.  They were not talking about dogs, I imagine. And then I left and they gave me a very knowing sort of lip smile.

I think it must be very easy for people to get suspicious and paranoid in this Midwestern culture.  When this stuff happens, I do miss New York City.  New York is sort of like my freshman bathroom.  Your privacy is limited and so you get creative with it.   People drop their shame and just let others in on their business.  People cry openly on the street. You overheard cell phone conversations on the street as a matter of course (“I just read this great self help book, I’m going to lend it to you when I’m done with it, I think it will help you”).  Dogs pee in the gutter and people make out on subway platforms and someone passes out on the train and somebody actually stands up and helps. It’s a city where there’s not a lot of whispering.  Whispering wouldn’t work anyway because a train would come by and drown you out.  Here, often there is nothing to drown you out but silence, and so your voice gets smaller and smaller until eventually you can’t hear each other over the table.  The subject of dogs becomes so important we need to scootch our tables apart from each other so that we can discuss it in private.

I don’t know.  It’s pretty here though.  The snow is sticking.  I’ve got a lot of stuff to do.  My dishwasher works again.  There’s no foam coming out the bottom right now.    This is important stuff, people.   Talking about my dishwasher. Maybe I should lower my voice so nobody else hears me say this:  I’m not sure if those dishes are dirty.  This might be their second time through.

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