Monday, August 18, 2008

Picking Me Up

Recently, I've been doing temp work at some odd hours for various law firms around town (midnight to 4 or 6 or 8, stuff like that). After-hours, the companies pay for cars to come get you and take you home if you end before 6. Which made me feel important when I first started doing work like this last year, until I realized that there's a whole-sub-industry of night office workers out there, most of whom get the same "ritzy" treatment! (As a side-note, let me just say that there's nothing worse than dragging your bedraggled up-all-night ass home on the subway/bus at 8am amidst all of the fresh morning people just heading in!)

The types of drivers vary. Some are stoic and don't play the radio or speak at all other than to get your destination address. Others chat on their head-sets with their friends the whole time. Some will chit-chat with you. This past week, I had one Middle Eastern driver who was nice and friendly; we chatted for the first 20 minutes of the drive or so: Yes, I was fairly new here. Hadn't done temp work since I first arrived last year. (Interesting to learn from him that this is the worst he's seen the economy in 12 years of driving---his passenger list was really down this summer. It helps mentally that I can blame the poor economy for not finding a full-time job!) Just came to NYC to try something new. The driver lived on Staten Island, had been in the area for 14 years, had just gone to Atlantic City for the weekend with a friend...

And there's where things took "The Turn." Atlantic City, I should see it. (Yes, definitely, I'd heard so much about it.) I needed someone to show me around. By the way, how big was my apartment? 2-1/2 bedrooms? Oh, then I must have a husband and/or kids. No? I live in that big place all by myself? I really needed to see Atlantic City. Did I have a boyfriend? (No, I'm single. And I'm gay.) CLUNK. No more conversation for the rest of the ride!

Now, I don't know that it was "gay prejudice" that stopped the conversation. I tend to think it was just "unavailable female---don't want to bother talking any more." That's happened to me a few times over the years. Most recently, just after I'd first moved into my current apartment last spring and was at a Union City store bargaining for furniture. The first time I went, I chatted pleasantly and at length with the owner. He spent a lot of time with me, showing me most of his store, and I ended up getting a good deal on a bed; I came back the next week to haggle over a small dining-room set to order from a catalogue. The owner, also Middle Eastern, was again very friendly as we went page-by-page. But this second visit also brought "The Turn," which started out easy: How big of a table did I need? (I started to describe the size of the space available, and that I wanted a small table with 4 chairs...) For just me? For me and my husband? For some kids? For me and my boyfriend? (I continued trying to focus on the fact that I needed a small table with 4 chairs...) Oh, so it's just me? No husband? No boyfriend? I didn't say I was gay this time, but I did try a little mental experiment: "It's for me and three other people." CLUNK. End of solicitousness. The catalogue almost snapped shut. He didn't really have anything I might like after all!

Another time that stands out, I was on a bus in San Francisco, and a young college guy sat down next to me. All charm, all chat for 10 minutes or so. He's an interesting person, I thought. Until I mentioned I was gay. CLUNK. His face actually "fell" and he said, "Oh." And then shut up completely and physically moved to another seat a few stops later! (Again, this was San Fran, and he was a young "boho" type---I don't think it was gay prejudice.)

If I'm in the mood, I actually like passing time by chatting with strangers and learning about their lives. Last summer, for instance, I spent hours in a Chelsea park talking with an old woman who randomly sat on my bench while I was eating my hot-dogs and people-watching---I ended up learning about the neighborhood, as well as her grocery-shopping habits and about her daughters and grandkids, and met two of her friends from the 'hood that showed up to chat. (One daughter has a house on Long Island, and actor Danny Aiello is a friend of her family. The woman showed me photos of Aiello at their house!)

So I'm usually a bit shocked when someone blatantly shuts up or physically MOVES once he finds out that I'm not a potential "date"! Such an odd, single-minded purpose for chatting to begin with...and then the utter rudeness!

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