Things Have Rules

(1) Talking to strangers; (2) being a guest; (3) dressing appropriately.

Skyhook, near JFK airport. There was a horse in the picture but it is cropped out.

I biked out to JFK and then back over to Scott Rahin's place to check in. I like long bike rides because I can eat bread.

“Did the police arrest you as a bike-riding agitator?”

“No, I rode out by the water,” I said. “I sat on this big pier in Canarsie eating a turkey sandwich. An old guy came over with a tiny dog and told me I looked like a computer expert.”

Scott and I both work in information technology.

“What did you say?” asked Scott.

“I told him that I write advertisements. It was one of those things where the old guy is asking your address and you say 'I live near the Park' and he goes 'Oh, what street?' He wants an intersection, but you don't feel like giving that. Then he says he drives his daughter to school over there, but it's not likely his daughter is less than 50 years old. So maybe it's a special school—”

“Or maybe she's a teacher,” Scott said.

“I hadn't thought of that. But then he'd say work, not school, wouldn't he? You're just looking at this guy with his tiny dog and maybe a lot of unspoken tragedy, which is why he talks to dudes in the park while walking his little dog, or maybe I'm wrong and he's just a cheerful older guy with a nice daughter getting a graduate degree somewhere, and because he likes his life he talks to dudes in the park while walking his little dog. But he's asking me where I live while I'm trying to steer things back to how I saw a rabbit. Still, a perfectly pleasant and interesting conversation.”

“That's great,” said Scott. “I wish I'd seen a rabbit.”

“You should have,” I said.

“Maybe he knew you, somehow,” said Scott, “and he knew you were lying about computers. Maybe he had a piece of information for you that would change your life for the better and he was seeing if you were a patient or kind person. He could have been Elijah of Canarsie.”

“It was one of those things where you repeat what they say,” I said. “He said, you rode a long way, and I said, not too long a way, and he said, are you cold? And I said, I don't get too cold, and he said, you got a lot of meat on you, and I said, yep, I got a lot of meat on me, and he said, you look like a computer expert.”

“It's hard to talk to strangers in parks,” said Scott. “Because invariably they need $50 for the train because they've lost their wallet. And you're like, oh, I thought I was building community.”

“Once,” I said, “I gave a guy $10 because he said he was in Spyro Gyra. He said he'd left his synthesizers in the car. I figured if he was telling people he was in Spyro Gyra he needed it more than I did.”

Then we talked about how most people want to connect but it's just really hard to negotiate the form the connection can take in physical space. Whereas online there are whole systems there to solve this very problem. Finally Scott said: “Did you eat dinner yet? Is there anything going on?”

“Well,” I said, “actually.” Because very often there is nothing going on. “James is having a performance thing at his house.” Our friend James built out a large loft space with natural light and high ceilings and everyone wants to do their art to it.


“Right now in Williamsburg,” I said. “Or soon. Apparently there is this performance artist there? She does a lot of naked stuff? And he said that she sometimes shits on the floor. He sort of got roped into it and then looked her up on Wikipedia. He said that was a weird conversation, when he had to say, 'Look, I understand the work you do and respect it, but please don't shit on my floors. They're new, and heated.' And finally she promised.”

“Maybe that's part of the work, to make the promise then renege.”

“Right,” I said. “He's not convinced her word is bond.”

“I guess you could ask people to make recommendations on LinkedIn,” said Scott. Scott and I both work in information technology. “ 'Working with Cynthia was an amazing experience as she always made deadlines and was incredibly prepared for meetings and she is as good as her word when it comes to not dropping a deuce on your floor.'”

We talked about that some more, then we talked about artists, and about how people in technology talk about artists.

“They think, I think,” I said, “that there is something to being artists that they aren't being given credit for. They are always saying, he is not just a programmer but a real artist. They always say hackers and entrepreneurs are like landscape painters or concert pianists. These Howard Roarkish types. No one ever says that hackers are just like a situationist who works in absences or a person who shreds incunabula to make papier-mâché doll heads or crucifies a coyote while repeating the word 'sand' for six hours. Not that people are still crucifying coyotes.”

“Real artists shit,” said Scott. “But that's going on and we can go over there right now, so let's go to it.”

I didn't say anything.

“Well we should do that,” said Scott.

“Look at me, though,” I said, shaking my head. “I'm wearing sweatpants.”

Scott paused. “Can you tell me exactly what kind of pants you wear when someone could be shitting on your friend's heated floor?”

“Nice slacks,” I quickly replied. “I'd prefer a blazer. Things have rules.”




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


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