I’m at Wilde Roast Café in one of those comfy fancy-looking armchairs by the fire. I have coffee and am typing on a MacBook, so I feel very writerly. I’m wearing my eyeglasses to look at my computer screen even though I’m nearsighted and they do me no good. They add another layer to my writerly-ness. Perhaps people will think I’m writing a screenplay that no studio will ever look at. Or maybe a formulaic novel in which we learn at the climax that the protagonist has all along been the villain. But the thought is conceited. People are going about their business, paying me no mind, and my glasses make my eyes burn. I take them off.
“Is anyone sitting here?” I hear. I look up to see a handsome man, probably in his fifties, standing by the chair next to me. He’s tall, maybe 6’2”, with wide shoulders and a thick waist.
“Only if you sit there,” which is my attempt at a clever reply. He fake laughs and sits down.
I return to my laptop, where a blank Word document stares back at me. I don’t want to write, so instead I wonder whatever happened to that guy I went out on that date with in college, the one who told me he ate grass. Let me close Word and open Facebook to search for him.
“I’m over this weather,” my new neighbor says. I turn to him. He’s pulling a laptop out of his bag.
“Me too.” I have no clever reply, so I pull out my Southern card—I play it whenever I don’t know what to say: “Yeah, I’m from North Carolina. I’m not used to this.”
“Oh, really? How long have you been here?” He’s reaching behind a small table separating us, fumbling to find a power outlet for his computer.
“Almost five years.”
He chuckles. “Shouldn’t you be used to the weather by now?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say to you.”
He laughs. I blush. He finds the power outlet and settles back into his chair.
“I’m not good talking about weather,” I say awkwardly.
Uncomfortable pause. He looks down at his computer in silence. That was an odd way to end a conversation.
“Sorry,” he says, “I was trying to find something else to say to you, but I kept coming back to weather.”
I like this guy.
“This is kind of like one of those awkward airplane conversations, yeah?” I say, “You know, when you try talking to the possibly very talkative and/or awkward stranger sitting next to you.”
“Not until I ask you what part of North Carolina you’re from, even though I already know I won’t know where it is you’re talking about.”
“A pivotal role in any airplane conversation.” I sip my coffee. “Hope Mills, North Carolina. Town of small cafés and big gossip.”
“Oh my god, I love that place! I’m sure I have an obscure cousin somewhere out there!”
I immediately want to be his friend. He’s outgoing and hilarious.
“I reckon I should tell you that I’m Justin,” I say and wonder whether or not I should stick out my hand. It’s awkward sitting side-by-side like this.
“Reckon, Justin? Reckon? Really?” He has this fantastic smile that makes me want to swoon.
“I’m Rob.” We don’t shake hands.
“I was being sarcastic,” I say, which is a total lie. He rolls his eyes.
“Are you writing? What are you writing?” he asks.
“I don’t know yet. Maybe a status update.”
“Oh, you young’ns and your Facebook.”
“Young’ns, Rob? Young’ns? Really?”
Rob’s a rare breed for Minneapolis. Scratch that. Rob’s a rare breed period. He’s charming without trying and social without hesitation. He’s just the right kind of honest. And he reads people well, I sense. Is it a generational thing? I’m 27 and somewhat social, but dorky and outrageous. Also, it seems that people my age, like my college date, apparently do things like eat grass. Rob’s just cool.
No. It’s not generational. Almost never does this happen. Strangers don’t say hello without sufficient alcohol consumption or a “networking event” excuse.
Rob and I have known each other for only a few minutes, but he has me longing for more of him. Not him specifically, but rather him, the breed. I’m somehow reminded of Seinfeld, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because the show was about nothing, as is our conversation, as is my unexpected craving for talking to strangers, as is my recounting this story to you.
Rob and I chat for another 15 or 20 minutes. He tells me a story about an 80 year-old woman who died next to him on an airplane. I tell him about a guy on an airplane who vomited on my shoe.
I’ve lost track of time and realize I’m late to an appointment.
“Shit, I gotta go,” I say and shut my laptop.
“But you didn’t write anything,” he says.
I stand up and start wrapping up my charger cord.
“Maybe I’ll write about you.”
Say hello. ThroughTheseEyes.JustinJones@gmail.com.