Talk to Me

at 11:35 PM

You've probably been in this situation: Just as you sit down in a cafe and sip your drink or pick up that long-ignored book, a stranger begins to chat.

"Oh, hey, we have the same coffee! Ha Ha!"

"Do you like that book? I liked that book. Especially the ending when Jane dies."

As an introvert, I enjoy conversations with strangers as much as the next person -- which is to say, not at all -- so I'm always at odds about what to do. Do I smile politely and move a table over? Say I'm too busy... reading? Or do I join in? In truth, I've tried everything. I've also pretended to be deaf and/or a tourist, using what I like to think is a new version of French-American Sign Language whose basic message is universal: Stop talking to me.

I've always wondered what compels people to go out of their way to speak with strangers. If someone's hair was on fire or her leg was about to fall off, sure, I might speak up. But most of the time I just sit there and wonder: How does one become a Chatty Patty, and why do they always target me?

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I may have gotten some answers the day I dropped my daughter off at kindergarten, when I spent the rest of the morning wandering our neighborhood and feeling a little lost. For five years, she'd been at my side nearly everywhere I went. We had our own cafes, our own parks. Every other block, we raced to the end of the street, and she would collapse into my arms, laughing.

The day I dropped her off, I went into a favorite cafe and turned to her a couple times, wanting to point out a neat sign or a pigeon outside, but the seat next to me remained empty, and I had to recall she was now half a city away, probably sitting in some circle, finding a new routine.

A man sat at the next table and plugged his ears into a phone.

"We have the same iPhone! Ha Ha!" I repeated, when he finally took out his ear buds to hear what I had been yammering on about. He smiled politely and moved a few tables away, while I nursed my coffee in the sudden quiet and waited for someone new to sit down.

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With a Perspective, I'm Mike Adamick.

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