Monday, June 30, 2008

Stranger Things (Have Happened)

I think I may have mentioned before that I don't really like people. And that's true to some degree. I don't like people in line. People in cars. I don't like people in crowds, people in Disney apparel, people doing the wave at sporting events. I don't like people wearing fanny packs and pleated pants, double breasted blazers, drunk people, loud people, sweaty people, the stupid, the greedy, people who are too serious, people who sit right smack dab in front of me in an otherwise empty movie theater. As a general rule suicide bombers pretty much suck. But mostly I don't like people in theory.

In reality, though, people are pretty awesome. People who hold the door. People who smile sincerely. People who stop you on the street to ask for directions, that vulnerable look in their eyes as if they are searching for soft cookie crumbs of strange kindness. I like my friends and my family, small people, old people. The hopeful. I like the woman who makes my drink at Starbucks every morning with her sharp nose and smart blue eyes, the way she tells me to have a nice day. I can tell that she means it. For the most part, I like people in reality.

And so it was with interest that I read of the guy who tied a disposable camera to a bench with a sign that read: "Good afternoon, I attached this camera to the bench so you could take pictures. Seriously. So have fun. I'll be back later this evening to pick it up. Love, Jay / The Plug." I mean, what a pure idea, right? It got me in that tiny slice of my heart that thinks people are A-ok. Aside from his moniker of The Plug, which, let's face it, sounds a bit unsavory, this is just a perfect social experiment.

Granted I am not the first blogger to post about this. I actually found out about it from Jessie at The Lucky Stone (great blog, btw. Go there now. No, wait, go there after you've read this. And maybe commented on it. Because I love your comments. Remember? I like people? Yeah, that means you, too. I like You.)

Anyhoo, I lay awake on Friday night thinking about conducting this experiment. It seemed so enticing, so cool, and yet something about it made me feel shy, as if the universe were sprinkling my bare skin with salt. I almost backed out at least a dozen times until finally with nothing else to do on Saturday morning Zoey and I went and bought the camera and some string. We decided to add a blank notebook and a pen to make it our own. Our sign read a little something like this: "Hi! I've attached this camera to the bench so you can take pictures. Seriously! So have fun! I'll be back late this afternoon to pick the camera up. Oh! And here's a notebook, too. In case you have anything to say. Have a great Saturday!" And we tied it to a bench right in the center of our small town and went home for a nap.

When we awoke, here is what we found:

Two amigos with hair and one without; slightly foggy morning.

Adorable dog with a very large head, complete with happy owner.
Friendly man waving goodbye to the fog.

Safety first.

Safety second, plus one possible taco.

I'm sorry, lady, for showing your nostrils, but the composition is divine.

Handsome man, possibly Dermot Mulroney.

Attitude with striking eyes, the male version of Zoey?

Sadly there was nothing written in the notebook except a short note thanking me for the camera fun.
Of course I am nothing if not a woman of (too many?) words so undeterred I took the notebook to an Art & Wine Festival the very next day and I tied it to a bench with a note that read: "I NEED ADVICE. Please write some advice in this notebook. I'll pick it up at the end of the day. Seriously. Have fun! Thank you." It is my belief that good advice should pertain no matter the situation. And then I strolled around in the sun with my friends looking at bad art and inhaling the wet hot scent of gyro and tannins for a few hours until we decided to go back to the park and spy on the notebook.
When we got back to the park we saw an older woman sitting on the bench next to the notebook and if anybody so much as paused to read the sign she'd say in a voice full of gravel and wine, "I'd tell that person to stop asking for advice!" And then she'd chuckle as if the bench were center stage at The Laugh Factory and she was the headliner. She sucked. I'm pretty sure I'd have flipped her off in traffic if she so much as crossed me in what is sure to be her Chevy Nova, that she had spent her entire adult life waiting in line somewhere while wearing a Donald Duck tank top and possibly a homemade bomb in her "check-me-out-I'm-an-asshole" fanny pack. (Remember! I love me some people!) I was with my friend Rosalie who is just now getting some hair back after completing chemo and we thought about grabbing the notebook from beside the crotchety Disney lady and tearfully telling her that Rosalie really needed advice, that she was dealing with breast cancer and her therapist suggested she seek out strangers for healing. But then we realized that while we could spend two, maybe even three hours shootin' the shit with Bezelbub we don't necessarily want to burn in the fiery depths of Hell for all of eternity so we opted to get some smoothies, instead.
And yet at the end of the day when I picked up the notebook it was full of pearls of wisdom. Inside I found:
--"Follow your heart, use your brain. You'll do fine and take care!"
--"All of the answers to your questions are within--be true to yourself. Good luck."
--"Follow your heart and don't listen to anyone else! Remember this!! But! If your parents were fucked up so are you! But! Don't give up, just do your best! If you do you might be okay. The fact that you are asking for help is promising. I am an LCSW." (Scary indictment of the profession?)
--"Stay present. Move forward. Acceptance is key."
--"Don't believe everything that you think or feel. Depression, anxiety and fear are all liars."
--"Find that thing that makes you fall in love with yourself. Remember what it was that you were drawn to as a child if you don't know what to do right now."
--"Seek regular counseling, a psychic, therapist, channeler, whatever."
--"I am not going to give any advice, only a suggestion. Forgive yourself!"
Hidden camera shot of people doling out advice.
At the end of the weekend I felt secure in my belief that people in general suck, especially when they have spent the afternoon in the sweaty sun drinking wine and feasting on fried festival food, but people in particular? They make me feel as if I am part of something larger, something warm and breathing, something undeniably beautiful, messy and real, every. single. time.


The Lil Bee said...

You are incredible, my friend. I love love love your twist on the idea. I'm going to try to remember how cool people can be, when I'm smushed in between a heifer and a stinker on the 6 train tomorrow morning.

Oh, who the hell am I kidding? I'm going to cab it tomorrow morning, as per usual. Heat makes me cranky.

The Nerdy Fashionista said...

aw, I like that! Cool experiments. I'm glad everyone was so sincere, and you didn't get any perverts taking photos down their pants.

coco+kelley said...

that is freakin' awesome! i wonder what would happen if i did that in LA... (the camera would probably get stolen, someone would use it to take headshots for their portfolio... yeah, sometimes i hate people too.) i love the notebook idea though. it think i might need to try that the next time i need words of wisdom. maybe i'll leave it in an old people's home - they always have LOTS of advice (or some seriously crazy stories...)

hej said...

My advice, keep writing.

Megan said...

very cool!

karey m. said...

it's exactly how i feel over here...there've been way too many moments where i think we're all so connected. but not.

my faith in people is wrecked. then renewed. then wrecked again. without fail. over and over again.

but then - you're right! - there's that girl at starbuck's who means it - and it's all worth it. entirely.

i loved this one. so much.

Katie Lake said...

if you like social experiments you should check out i think it's actually supposed to be an equality project but it's cool none the less. also kind of a cool example of people connecting with one another. isn't that what makes us to happy about these experiments? making that connection? seeing people in a new way?

v8_grrl said...

thank thank thank you....this will be my new weekend project

JackeeG4glamorous said...

You, my friend are AMAZING! (and so is Rosalie, btw) and if you are comparing people in general to yourself, well, that is why they fail. I mean, come ON, we here all know that!
I could never do that experiment here where I live. There is no communal area with a bench! Ha!

I'm still trying to dig out from under my own set of people who suck, which sometimes included those near and dear to me, those I work with 9,10 hours a day. Brings me to why I blog, and read find that hope that there are interesting caring people out there!

Misplaced Country Girl said...

Oh! I have tears in my eyes. I too in general don't like people. But I think my faith has been restored just a little. Thank you!

Pippa said...

Damn emotions getting the better of me, that post just squeezed a tear from my eye. I love how the good nature of people actually seemed to shine through - no dodgy pictures though or swear words? I wonder if it would work in this hemisphere... might have to give it a go too

I *Heart* You said...

you are so boss. the people in your town seem nice and friendly! if i tied a camera to a bench near my office i would probably end up paying $12 to develop a roll of film of homeless people's junk. no bueno.

Gin said...

So, so cool. Now I'm inspired, and in more than one way.

Oh, and I also hate People. Individuals, generally speaking, I'm okay with; but collectively, People suck.

Richie Designs said...

that's awesome!! I think about doing stuff like this all the time and never do.

so glad you did it

scarletvirago said...

This post made my eyeballs sweaty. That's it, just sweaty. Nothin' to see here people! Certainly not a grown woman and affirmed people-hater herself gettin' all weepy! Just move along. I got sweaty eyeballs, is all.

Sarah said...

What an awesome experiment. I work every day with the public and I too "hate people" but sometimes...they surprise me.

Stefanie said...

I loved this post. Especially the advice and the fact that you hate people in fanny packs. Me too. And most of that advice could easily help me in my life right now.

Kwana said...

I love this post! You perfectly capture how much I love and loathe people. It's great and so brave of you to do this experiment. Thanks.

Jennifer said...

I'm right there w/ you on the Disney makes me cringe.

Very cool experiment! I just might try it!

Jill said...

I could have used an experiment like this in Israel... I would have loved to have seen if the camera would have been there upon my return... I'm guessing it wouldn't.

L said...

A-mazing, lady. What a brilliant and awesome experiment. I think I will try the same thing soon here in Pittsburgh. It really is amazing to see people in action being kind and open and utterly human. Because I am convinced that, even though they may be grumpy and poopy on the outside, people just want to be loved, accepted, and heard. And you let them do that.

Thank you. :)

with love from Pittsburgh...

Holly said...

How fun! I'm thinking there must be a way to turn this into a school project for my 4th grade class... but, it could get inappropriate; there are some creepy people in the world.

Marnie said...

great experiment - fascinating results in the notebook- you should take it on the road - imagine the differences from park bench to park bench all around the world

Fifi Flowers said...

HOW fun... you do have extra time on your hands... hilarious! My kids would love to do that... LOLOLOLOL!
Your Dr. Laura story is fun... I listen to her when in my mother's car... she loves her... and has bought me her books... says they will make everything wonderful... lol... the books are still unread... sorry, Dr. L

Jessie said...

You DOLL! Thanks for the mention and the warm words.

Glad to be back and get all caught up on your writing... I missed you!

Btw, you could write a book on farming soybeans or the lifecycle of the aphid or binary code, and I would read it front to back to front five zilliontrillion times over.

A book on being a working mother? Brilliant. You'll make moolah AND change the world. Booya!

Annie Empiric said...

How did I miss this post?! Thank god I reread my favorite blogs from time to time and stumbled upon it. I live for this shit!

Ashleigh Burroughs said...

Creating community one camera at a time?!? I love it. Do you know about BookCrossing? You leave a book in a public place and watch on-line as it travels the world. For details, go to:

Readers are usually people I can stand..... most of the time, anyway.