On my birthday, friend Sara and I went over to Arlin's in Clifton, went outside on their deck and had a few drinks. We were having a good old time, but it didn't take long for it to get interrupted.
"Excuse me; I saw the two of you come in. Are you two soulmates?"
She was an older lady, black hair, big earrings and sort of talked with a Gypsy accent.
Here we go. Another one has found me.
"Yes," I said.
Sara smiled, in on the joke.
"How long have you known one another?" the lady asked.
"Eight or nine years," I lied.
Then I sort of lost track of the lady's ramblings. She said she has a soulmate too, lost her husband a while back, didn't want to live afterwards, had an out-of-body experience, God told her he wasn't ready for her yet and on and on and on. Sara and I just sat there nodding our heads, smiling.
Did I mention the woman was really, really drunk?
Eventually, of course, she started touching me.
"You're so handsome!" she said at least a couple times.
"Thank you," I said, feeling uncomfortable and wishing she would leave us alone. She finally did — went back to her "soulmate," who was also drunk inside the bar. When she left, Sara started laughing.
"You always attract the weirdoes, don't you?" she said. "It's like they follow you around. They always seem to find you."
"It's a curse," I said.
Maybe I meant it.
I don't like to call somebody a weirdo, but I do seem to attract people who are a little different, a little strange. It's been that way for most of my life.
In grade school, I had a friend who would give me candy bars sometimes, and then days later would want them back after I had already eaten them. I remember in sixth grade, a girl liking me who always put toilet paper in her brassiere to make her small, developing breasts look bigger for me. She didn't look bigger; she just looked "lumpy."
High school was no different — the strange people would find me. Everybody called him "Goodie," and he seemed all right until onetime in the boy's locker room, he wanted to touch my penis. There was a girl named Brenda who sent me unwanted love notes throughout my junior and senior year of high school. Even her parents got involved when they asked me if I would take her out. Then there was another girl who liked me; her father was a hog farmer. She wasn't bad looking but — and I'm not trying to be mean here — she smelled like a pig.
I could talk about my college days too, but I think you get the point. I attract weirdness.
Some of it I've written about in this column, like the bus stalker, who started knocking on my apartment door and giving me money; the roommate I used to live with, who turned out to be a raging alcoholic; and the guy who wanted to rush me and "bring me down" at the bus stop one afternoon. While a portion of it makes its way into this space, a lot of it doesn't.
There's no point in writing a story about the lady at Keller's IGA who wants me to squeeze tomatoes for her. I can't come up with enough words to write about the guy who wants to sell me cans of pork & beans on Ludlow Avenue. Once a young kid wanted to sell me a copy of CityBeat for two bucks — and I actually bought it.
How do I bring up this young girl I met on the bus one morning, who told me I have a cute rear end and wanted to see it naked — and then followed me to work? What am I supposed to do about this guy who, when I see him downtown, always says I look sad and wants to hug me? How do I stop the weirdness from happening?
There is a way, of course: Simply don't make eye contact with people. Always look down and let it known you don't want to be bothered. But as a writer, that just doesn't work for me. So often I get good stories or ideas just from talking to people I don't know. More times than not, I meet interesting people who educate me in some way, and I got to have that.
It's always good to hang out with Sara. She's a great friend. While we really haven't known each other eight or nine years, she's known me long enough to know I'm going to keep looking at faces and putting up with the strange, quirky people I meet and talk to.
After all, the name of this column is "Living Out Loud," not "Living with a Blindfold On."
Larry Gross will read from and signing his book Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories at Sitwell's Coffee House, 324 Ludlow Ave. in Clifton at 7 p.m. May 31.