I really never was someone who enjoyed interacting with other people more than I absolutely had to when I was younger. Social distancing? Hey, I mastered that decades ago, and without the aid of a pandemic.
I remember the first time I heard the line, “I’m not the kind of man who tends to socialize. I seem to lean on old, familiar ways” in Paul Simon’s song “Still Crazy After All These Years” and I thought, “That’s me! He’s talking about me!” Oh, friends would occasionally come over to my house, or I’d go to a buddy’s place in grade school and middle school. And I’d meet up with classmates at sporting events when I was in high school. But interacting with others was for the most part awkward and difficult for me.
Twenty-plus years of working in the newspaper industry helped me hone the art of conversation. I reached a point where I could engage in a dialogue with pretty much anyone I encountered and – gasp! – actually like it. As much as I enjoy my current job of transcribing local government meetings – and, as a once or twice a month side hustle, the podcasts of a local religious organization – I do all of my work at home. Walter and Donny, the two cats my wife Cindy and I own, are great companions, but my conversations with them are one-sided. That is, except for when their meows to let me know they want treats or attention are understood in any language.
Humans need to interact with each other – smartphones, streaming services, and every other technological vice on the market that distracts us on a daily basis be damned. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting lost in the world of social media and television shows that do absolutely nothing to increase my IQ. But I savor any chance I get to chat with people for a moment or two. Nolan’s teachers and paraprofessionals. Other parents of special needs kids. That checkout clerk at the grocery store who has the misfortune of me being the only customer in line.
So when the event center in the city where I live hosted a sports card and memorabilia show this past Saturday, I was very eager to rent a table. One of my hobbies is collecting stuff, and I have an enjoyable time doing so. But I’ve reached the point where it’s time to start thinning the herd a bit. Not only could I hopefully sell some of the sports collectibles I no longer want, but the show would give me the opportunity to talk to whoever stopped by my table.
I love both Cindy, and my son, Nolan, more than anything, but there are many days when they’re the only two people I see and talk to for more than a couple of minutes. Cindy shares the details of her workday when she comes home from her job at the local technical college. But her evenings are devoted to making dinner, helping Nolan with his nighttime routine, and working on our new venture of eventually teaching our son crafting as a job skill. We do talk to each other; that is, when either one or both of us hasn’t dozed off.
Nolan has Autism and is nonverbal. I have to rely on the staff at the high school he attends to tell me how his school day went. His iPad is his primary means of communication with the world, and he often uses it to tell us when he’s hungry, which is often, and when he wants a car ride, which I think he sometimes enjoys more than eating.
Being that last Saturday was my first weekend out of the house since December, I wanted to make it worth my while. Sure, I was happy to sell some items and make a decent profit. But I also hoped there would be plenty of people to talk to during the show. I wasn’t disappointed.
I struck up a conversation with the facilities manager, who had the table next to mine, before the show began. He told me about his granddaughter, who’s already become a pretty good volleyball player and she isn’t even in high school yet. I told him about some of the best flea markets to hit in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
I briefly caught up with two guys I’ve known since grade school. One of them told me his son is now 23 and has a full-time job. The other one asked if Nolan had stopped by yet. I told him he had – Nolan’s brief visit included a lot of yelling and removing his shoes and socks – but perhaps he and his wife might see him if they come to the craft fair where we’ll have a booth next month.
Two area high school coaches that I got to know when I worked for the local newspaper came over to talk to me for a moment.
Three grade school-aged boys from Iowa, who were in town to watch their brother play in a hockey tournament, hung around my table for a few minutes. They asked me where I had gotten all the items I was selling. They were fascinated by a 1970s Chris Evert model Wilson tennis racket on the table, and a basketball that might have been signed by NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson. They were even more interested in my Nylint “ABC Wide World of Sports” toy truck, and the fact some of them sell for more than $100 if they’re in great condition.
I chatted for a few minutes with a local businessman who was wearing apparel from the American Basketball Association, the NBA’s rival league in the 1960s and ‘70s. I found out we’re both fans of the long-defunct league, and basketball in general. Another local businessman, who used to own a pet daycare and grooming establishment, told me he remembered when Nolan and I would come in to buy cat food.
A girl who was about 3 years old took a liking to the Milwaukee Brewers batting helmet on my table toward the end of the show. I asked her if she wanted to try it on, which she did after nodding her head eagerly. I asked her if she wanted to have it for free. She smiled and nodded even more eagerly. Needless to say, she got it for the cost of a fist bump.
I left the sports card and memorabilia show at 3 p.m. feeling a little tired after being on my feet for eight hours. But I appreciated being around and getting to interact with people over the course of the day, even if it was just to greet them when they either walked by or stopped at my table to browse.
Yeah, I still enjoy my alone time. But I have a desire to have that face-to-face interaction with other human beings. I think everyone should want to have that contact with other people. It’s healthy, and it’s necessary.
We’re all busy people, and we started disconnecting from each other long before the demon virus wreaked havoc on the planet. It’s not difficult to change that. Take some time to talk with your neighbors or co-workers. Reconnect with that family member or friend with whom you lost touch months or years ago. Facebook, Twitter, and all the big tech distractions can wait. Miss that episode of “Yellowstone” or “The Walking Dead?” You can always stream it later.
There’s always someone who will appreciate that “hello” and the sincere inquiry as to how he or she is doing. There’s always someone who’s willing to have a conversation. I’m happy to say that includes me.