The name of the game is “Have a Conversation!”

The name of the game is “Have a Conversation!”

It’s for days when you don’t leave the apartment, because you don’t have to ie the weekends, or if you work at home, everyday. You may need milk, or you may not, but at some point, you realize, you do have to leave the apartment. Not just for milk, or exercise, or “fresh air”. The cast of Downton Abbey, and your friends on Facebook, aren’t cutting it any longer. You need to “Have a Conversation!”

“Have a Conversation!” has 2 rules: 1.) A conversation is back-and-forth dialogue that goes on for at least 2 minutes. Therefore, “Enter your pin,” or “Have a nice day!” don’t count. 2.) A player must complete 3 conversation rounds in order to win.

Easy targets are grocery store clerks, bodega clerks, taxi drivers, doormen, and receptionists. They can’t get away.

“Have you ever tried these?” I ask the checkout girl at Forager’s, as I lift a $6 box of mini kiwis. “No,” she says. “Would you like to?” “Sure,” she replies. I’ve never had them either. So, we both pop one in. “Tastes like a small kiwi,” I say, nodding. The great thing about “Have a Conversation!” is, you don’t have to be witty, or clever, you just have to make it go on for a while. Mundane subjects actually work better. I am beginning to understand old age. “They’re not as potent as regular kiwis,” I continue. She agrees. “Sometimes smaller things are more potent, “ I go on. “Yeah, like Chiltepin peppers,” she says. I don’t know what those are, but there’s bonus points for unsolicited input. “Maybe it’s because they come from far away?” I venture. Forager’s specializes in locally grown produce. I resisted them at first, in favor of the more working-class Gristede’s, but eventually, I caved. They just have better lettuce. The kiwis are from California. “Well it was worth a try,” I say. She asks, did I do anything fun for Halloween. Additional bonus points. To be fair, this isn’t our first conversation. The first ones were shorter. I don’t know her name, but I know where she’s from; New Mexico. I know why she moved to New York; to get into film. I was proud of myself for not saying anything cynical when she told me about her aspirations. She has beautiful alabaster skin, and a round forehead like Daisy from Downton. I don’t tell her that either. You have to be careful in New York. Friendly is easily mistaken for creepy. I’ve done it myself. Mating is a free-for-all in the Big Apple, which is fine, but I sometimes find myself on the verge of blurting out, “I’m not flirting with you” in an effort to reassure the other person. This would surely make us both more uncomfortable. “Well, goodnight,” I say.  

You have successfully completed round 1. You have had a conversation!

The doorman is a natural for round 2. We’ve talked a lot, Ben and I. I know his story. He used to be in a gang. Someone from his own gang had it in for him, and came looking for Ben. Ben didn’t see it coming, the hammer. Ben now has a metal plate in his head that hurts when it rains. My knee hurts when it rains. It’s bad enough. Sometimes Ben drinks on the job. He often seems on edge. I’ve told Ben about PTSD treatments. He’s told me about his nieces, his mother. If he didn’t have them, he says, he would have ended it. I believe him. Sometimes, I get Ben a bottle of water. I ask anyway. He usually says yes.“Did you have your dinner?” I ask Ben. “I just ordered it. It’s coming.” “What’d you get?” I lean in, eager to talk about anything but the metal plate, or the recent terror attack on the West Side Highway. “Oh, I got a sandwich.” “What kind of sandwich?” Ben looks blank. “Chicken?” I say. “That’s a good, reliable choice, Chicken.” “Yeah, Chicken” Ben says. Ben is more guarded about his sandwich than he was about his criminal past. “Do you ever have ham? I don’t eat ham” I say before Ben can leave me hanging. “Sometimes,” Ben says. “What about roast beef? Do you ever have roast beef?” At this point, I’m getting excited, because Ben’s making me work hard, and I can’t remember the last time I had roast beef! The excitement is contagious. “Maybe like once a year!” Ben says, gesticulating with his hands. We laugh a little. Roast beef. Good one. “What did you get to drink?” No answer. Sandwiches might be sacred, but beverages are off limits, it seems. “Wha’d you get, a diet Coke?” “Pepsi,” Ben says, a little annoyed, “and I never drink Pepsi.” Maybe I’ve embarrassed Ben. I didn’t mean to. I don’t have an opinion about Pepsi. It beats Jack Daniels, on the job. That’s for sure. “Chips included?” I’m not letting this go. No chips, he says. What a jip. Those were the days. Ben is saved. Someone comes in to collect their laundry. I need to get back to my laundry, but first, I ask, “Do you want some water? Did you order some?” “No, I didn’t order it. Yes, that would be nice. Thanks, Honor.”

2 down, 1 to go! You have had another conversation!

We still have a bodega on our corner, thanks be to Jesus. Arab owned, thanks be to Allah. I find Ben’s usual medium bottle of Poland Springs, and head to the cashier. I smell onions cooking. It smells good. “Smells good,” I say to the clerk whose back is to me. “Yes,” he says, “It’s for me.” “Oh, you’re having your dinner. Sorry to bother you. It’s late to be having dinner” I say, “But it’s good to eat late sometimes…” He cuts me off as he turns around. “This is my breakfast. I work nights.” His accent is thick, his hair, curly, and his eyes, shadowed. “Oh, this is your breakfast!” I say excitedly. Repeating what he says is a great way to get a conversation cooking. He tells me that he works from 9 pm to 9 am. It sounds worse than Ben’s metal plate, except it doesn’t go on indefinitely. “So, you finish and 9, and then you go home?” “No, I don’t go home. I have to live a little. I’m not just a machine you can switch off.” He has a point, but he looks tired. “So, what time do you go to bed?” “Maybe 1:00. Maybe 12. Sometimes, I just go home and boom,” he says gesturing that he is out cold. ” “What do you do on your day off?” I ask. “I don’t have a day off.”. “What?!” I exclaim as I slap the counter with my hand. This makes him smile. I am not being dramatic. I would be dead in a week. “Oh, my God! It’s bad enough you are working nights, but no day off?” “It’s okay. I will do it, and then go on a long vacation. Maybe 7 months, maybe a year. Maybe I don’t come back.” “Okay,” I say, “but be careful. When you get old, it can catch up with you.” This makes him smile, too. He says he knows. We say goodnight.

Congratulations! You have completed round 3.

I return to Ben, water in tow. He is finishing up his shift. I am late, but he seems happy enough.

I am happy enough, too.

I have shared a mini kiwi, a bottle of water, and my concern.  

The name of the game is “Have a Conversation!”

Everybody wins.

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About honor finnegan

I'm a singer-songwriter, storyteller, and essayist. Also, a special education itinerant pre-k teacher, Heartfulness meditation trainer, and New Yorker.
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