At one of the networking events I went to recently, the setup was like speed dating. Half the participants sat at tables and the other half moved around the room to have 5 minutes of networking. I was a sitter, not a roamer. The meeting was at an Italian restaurant (the big chainy fake kind) and I sat in one of those enormous banquette tables with seats covered in durable red naugahyde. I felt like the godfather only with nicer skin and less money.
When “Boris” sat down, he didn’t give me a chance to introduce myself, he simply launched into a monologue. Before he sat down, I saw he wore a windbreaker and on the back in those stick-on vinyl letters it read MASSAGE THERAPY 555-1234. Most of the participants were people with businesses like real estate or plumbing. Boris is originally from a very large and formerly very Communist eastern European country and retains much of his thick accent so the delivery involved my brain struggling to keep up. I’m rather good at understanding even heavily accented English but I think I caught maybe 1/3 of what he said. During breaths he would shove laminated photocopies of newspaper articles at me, all of them touting his skill as a massage therapist. He carried had a beat up black portfolio maybe four inches thick with more pages sliding out. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise nor could I read anything because as soon as one page was presented, another was pushed in over it. It was like having a tornado made of laminated paper with an Eastern European accent sitting in your lap.
Finally I managed to say I’m a freelance writer and I’d be happy to look into doing some of his web and brochure copy for him but he waved a hand dismissively at me. Can’t afford it, don’t want it. We exchanged cards – he wrote something on the back of the one he gave me, but it was so cryptic I threw it away. I cannot imagine being relaxed enough to get a massage from this person, what with all that rambling yakking.
Didn’t give the day much though until a few weeks later when my phone rang.
It was Boris.
I thought he might be calling to inquire about copywriting services since his English is not very good, either written or spoken. He rattled on and somewhere in there I caught something about his English not being good and that he didn’t write very well but he makes people new with his massages. “Are you looking to trade services?” I asked, thinking that he wanted me to do some copywriting in exchange for massages? (I love a good massage, and I’m willing to barter, but….I didn’t think I could do this…)
“No no no, you misunderstand.” More rambling. I have no idea what he said.
“Boris, why are you calling me?”
“I tell you. I need friends. I need million friends. You be first.”
“What, like on Facebook?” I was really under the impression that we were talking business here. I was really wrong.
“No no no, I’m on the Facebookspace. I mean friends. You come over, I make you food. I’m up all the time.”
Husband was leaving at that moment to watch a basketball game at my in-law’s and I had not planned to accompany him. So I told a fib. “Boris, my husband and I are about to leave, we’re going to watch the game, so I’m going to go now.”
“You watch on TV?”
“Yes. It was -”
“I’m awake 24/7, you come over after with husband and I cook for you. I have many foods. You have kids?”
“Oh, too bad. You bring husband. I have lots of food but you have to tell me if you come over so I can make foods.”
“No, not tonight, maybe another time, so nice to talk to you, bye bye.”
Husband was standing there laughing. When I hung up, he said, “That your new boyfriend?”
It’s been a long time since I’ve snared a weirdo in my weirdo net. As a kid, I was a weirdo, too, so naturally we are drawn to our own kind. Frankly, I am still a weirdo but I’m better at hiding it now. I used to get the kids nobody else wanted to play with for one reason or another – they weren’t from our neighborhood or they were too smart; they didn’t ride the right bike or there was just something off about them. We were not cool, we were not in. As Winona Ryder’s character Lydia in Beetle Juice says, “Live people usually ignore the strange and unusual. I myself am the strange and unusual.” My mom said I was kind, and people are drawn to kindness, except why weren’t the popular kids ever drawn to kindness?? Well, because I was a kind weirdo.
There have been times I felt I was holding a sign that said:
“Give me your odd, your dorky,
Your socially awkward masses yearning to be cool,
The strange refuse of your teenage shores.
Send these, the friendless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Most people would just be rude to people who are at all different. As a kid, and a teenager, and a young adult, I did my best to be tolerant and polite, and even interested. Storytellers are always interested in stories. Maybe it’s the southerner in me. More likely it’s my sympathy kicking in, as someone who has definitely been the oddball, the weirdo, the strange one. But then I realized that sometimes tolerant and polite means you are not setting Appropriate Boundaries and then you might get stalked. Or kidnapped. Or you find out some guy has a shrine dedicated to you in a closet in his apartment where he has collected your hair because he knows what salon you go to and he convinced them to let him sweep up and then he just saved all your hair.*
So it surprised me that Boris called me, but after I got off the phone I realized it was all familiar territory. The inappropriateness of calling someone you met in a professional capacity and inviting them over just to hang out. The heavily accented verbal vomit. The misinterpretation of subtle social clues.
The alternative would be that I never met any weirdos. But then I wouldn’t have any stories to tell. Mainstream people who have no weirdo in them are a little bit boring to me now, the way Kansas was when Dorothy got back from the Technicolored Oz. I can’t go back now, might as well let the weirdo net unfurl and see whom I catch.
*This is probably a Lifetime movie; it didn’t really happen to me. At least, not that I know of.