My friend Kiki doesn't like to go shopping with me. It's not just because I lack her stamina at the mall. It's because I spend too much time in the check-out lines.
Let me give you an example.
Kiki and I will make a quick stop at Target, toss a few things into our baskets, and join the line to check out. Kiki will put her things on the conveyer belt. The clerk will say, "$32.76." Kiki will pay her money and collect her bags, and then my goods will make their way down the conveyer belt to the clerk.
"Oh," the clerk will say, scanning my first item. "Tampons. I used to use this kind of tampon."
"Really?" I'll say.
"Yes," the clerk will reply, "Before I had my hysterectomy."
"Oh," I'll say.
"It was five years ago," the clerk will say. "I'm okay with it now, but at the time...well, I really wanted to have another baby."
"That must have been hard," I'll say.
"I was so depressed I could barely get out of bed," she'll reply. "Thank God for Paxil, though, you know what I mean?"
And it will escalate from there.
I'm not sure what it is about me that brings this out in people, but it's a very real phenomenon. I say "Good morning," and strangers start to disclose. This is how I know that the woman who bagged my groceries took the job temporarily because she'd suddenly become unemployed, that she thought it would only be for the holidays, that she was dismayed to still be bagging in February, and that she has still not gotten the hang of opening the plastic bags. It's how I know that the night manager of Dunkin' Donuts really prefers the coffee at Starbucks. It's how I know that the woman at the pizza shop couldn't shake the feeling that something odd was going on that morning at the gas station mini mart when a young woman ran from the store into an idling car and sped away at top speed. It's how I know what kind of birth control the woman at the hair salon uses - and what effect it's had on her cycle. It's how I spent 45 minutes in the produce section of the grocery store talking to a woman (and then her husband, whom she'd called over from the bakery) about her grandson, who may be autistic, but whose parents may be in denial.
I think I might just have one of those faces - generic enough that I'm vaguely reminiscent of someone you know, making me familiar enough to put you at ease. People I meet often tell me that I am "just like" such-and-such person they know, or ask me if I'm related to so-and-so, or wonder if we've met at the blahdy-blah place I've never heard of.
As quirks go, though, it's a nice one to have. I enjoy hearing about people's lives and, it seems, they are pleased that someone is willing to listen to them. It does make for extraordinarily long sessions at the check-out counter, though.
Just ask my friend Kiki.