Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 19: Stranger With My Face

Today I'm thinking about strangers who were instantly friends. I mean, so quickly that I didn't even know until it was a done deal.

On my first day at UCSD, I was really nervous. I'd just moved 3,000 miles, alone, to start a new school and a new job. We had a two-day orientation, a soporific slog with a mess of ornery people, and I was seriously wondering if I'd made a terrible mistake. I was assigned an office with two other instructors, Ramie and Jane. Ramie was sweet--we would become close, but he was shy. Then, on the second day, there was Jane. Our first interaction went like this:

Me: (shyly) I like your shoes.

Jane: Thanks! I love these. They're new. But look! The strap is already breaking! (she shows me) I took them back to Nordstrom to see if they would give me another pair and they wouldn't! So I have to figure out how to get them fixed!

Me: Maybe try a shoe repair place. I brought in my cowboy boots that totally had no soles anymore and now they're like new.

Jane: Yeah? I think I will do that!

And that conversation went on for...ever, pretty much. That's how easy it is to talk to Jane. There was never a time we weren't friends, just a time when we hadn't started talking yet. Now it's 16 years later, and we're still talking, even though she moved to San Francisco and later New York and became a dermatologist and now knows all when I point to a spot and say "What's THAT?"

Then there was Grace, who I met on my first day of freshman orientation at Smith. Except that we seemed to already know each other. In fact, I remember that whenever one of us said something, the other would instantly start laughing, and rather than this seeming rude or strange, it just seemed normal. The first time I remember speaking, we were waiting in some line next to each other, and she gasped. She pointed at my name tag:

Grace: Your name is Samantha?

Me: Yeah.

Grace: Mine, too!

I turned around and furrowed my brow. Now this was odd, considering she was wearing a name tag clearly labeled "GRACE." Hmmm. Maybe she tells everyone she has the same name as them to make friends? The next morning, I was walking downstairs and ran into her. "Hi, Grace," I said, still laughing a little about the name tag thing. She didn't say a word, just pulled out her wallet and pointed to her social security card: "Samantha Grace ____."

I smiled at her. She smiled at me. Then we both started laughing. And that's it. I'm not sure we actually had a conversation for several more days. But we both knew we were already friends, and for some reason, this was not very surprising. Oh, we've talked plenty now. We've been talking--and not talking--for 25 years.

Long ago, I went to Laramie, Wyoming for an English conference with a guy I knew from school. After the first couple of panels, I decided the conference was lame. Now I was stuck here, sleeping in the dorms at the U of Wyoming, for a week with nothing to do and no one to talk to. For some reason, the conference was organized like a team-building exercise or a destination wedding, with social events scheduled each day. I talked Russ into the "Rock Climbing/BBQ" evening program and we headed to the bus at the appointed time. Standing around waiting, I despaired. Everyone seemed annoying, and Russ was in a pissy mood. Then a tiny car zoomed into the frame and stopped right in front of the bus. A tall, striking woman with a platinum buzz cut and about 16 earrings jumped out and yelled "We have room for two!"

I don't know why, but I didn't hesitate. My hand shot up, and with my other hand I raised Russ's hand. "US!" I called. The woman waved us over and within seconds, we were driving away. Marlene introduced herself and her grad school friend Teresa, riding shot gun, petite, cute and smart-looking, with glasses. As Gwendolyn Fairfax said, "I like you both already more than I can say." There were "Nice to meet yous" all around, and I could tell that there would be no need for small talk.

Me: Thanks for picking us up. It was looking a bit grim out there.

Everyone laughed. A lot. No tension. Nice. They get me. Even Russ was looking impressed. I took out my Carmex.

Marlene: Oooh, is that Carmex? I love that stuff.

Me: Yeah, I can't live without it. People are always saying 'Oh, be careful! That stuff is addictive!'

Marlene: I've heard that! That's so crazy!

Me: Yeah, I'm like 'Hello! It's not crack!'

We all laughed and I thought, It's going to be that easy? And so went the rest of the week. Marlene was a lecturer at UofW and had a house in town, and by the next day, it was our base of operations, too. If you ask me now about the Wyoming English Conference, I can free-associate thusly: "Tequila. Dancing. Screaming. Balderdash. This Is Spinal Tap. More tequila. Pizza. Nocturnal. Laughing. More tequila." Yup, the finest English conference ever. And it never really ended. Even though Marlene and Teresa are both professors now and we all live in different states, and I have never lived in the same state as either of them, we've been friends for 15 years. And whenever we get together (which is surprisingly often) we tend to pick up with the screaming, laughing and tequila, right where we left off the last time.

So, Readers, I guess the moral of the story is: Smile at a stranger today! You never know whose status is going to change in the blink of an eye.


Logical Libby said...

I find that friend made in this manner are the ones you can not see for years, and yet you pick up right where you left off...

The Wades said...

Sam, you strike me as the kind of person who is oh so easy to befriend! Heck, I feel like I know you myself.

I bet you rock at Balderdash! Also Taboo for that matter. I call dibs on having you on my team when we finally meet up. :) (It will be fun--Max can't stand it.)

Mary said...

Remember when we were strangers? That did not last long at all!



Sam said...

@Libby: Totally.

@Michelle: I love Balderdash! And Taboo! I will totally be on your team. :)

@Mary: Not long at all. You are definitely one of those people I felt like I already knew. :)

Anonymous said...

No tequila! It gives me a headache now. I mean seriously, who needs tequila when we've got J. Dust around for entertainment!