Talking to Strangers – A Primer

Strangers: The Prompt


Never discuss politics or religion with anyone you want to remain friends with.
Discuss these things only with strangers.
Only with the people you meet in public places like airports or coffee shops.
You don’t care what they think – they’re strangers.
You’ll never see them again anyway.

Lie to them, if you want.
Make up stories.
Entertain yourself. Pick your nose.
Or, open up with the truth. Spill your guts.
Maybe they have the answers you seek. You never know.

Ask them for free stuff.
“Are you going to eat that?”
“Wow, those are really nice. Can I have one?”
“Maybe one for my kid too?”
“Can you spare a couple of bucks to help me get to Omaha?”

Or you can treat them respectfully. Ask for nothing except a bit of their time.
Honor their ideas and listen to their opinions.
Share a joke or two, but not about religion or politics – knock, knock jokes are good.
But, take what they say with a grain of salt until you get to know them better.
Remember always that, until they become friends – they are strangers,
They might just be messing with you.

14th Street Coffee Bar (Revisited)



Shelly waved to Chuck as he stepped out of the shop and turned towards home. Making her way around the counter she flipped the sign on the door


She pulled the blinds and began cleaning. She was almost done when there was a light tap on the door glass. She wasn’t expecting anyone this early but went to investigate.

Pulling the shade aside she spotted a man standing outside her shop. He was tall and slender. She was surprised to see him. His skin was browned by the sun and was cracked by the dry desert heat, dust gathered in the lines on his face and neck. His clothes were neat but worn. He looked like he’d fallen on hard times. Under his left arm he held a large flat package wrapped in brightly colored Tehuana oilcloth. A leather grip held shut with a piece of knotted hemp stood at his feet. She turned the latch on the door and stepped aside.

Wrapping his long fingers around the handle of his case, and picking it up, he swept inside the shop, tossed his valise atop a table and leaned the wrapped package on a chair.

“Hi Dad,” Shelly greeted him. “How’d you find me?”

“Does it really matter how, darlin’? I’m just glad I did.” He spread his arms wide and Shelly ignored him, turning to shut the door.

“When did you get out Dad? Do they know you’re gone?”

“Look what I brought you Shelly,” he said. “I picked this up at an estate sale, just outside Hobbs.” He peeled the tape from the oilcloth and unwrapped what turned out to be a painting.

Shelly recognized it right away, “Jesus, Dad. That’s a Boticelli. It’s from Italy. You sure didn’t buy that in New Mexico!”

“’Course I did, honey. I got a receipt and everything, see.” He peeled an envelope from the back of the painting and spilled out a lot of torn pieces of paper. “That ole boy I bought it from, he kinda tore up the receipt but I can put it back together for you and you can see.” He began laying the parts of the fragmented document on the table, piecing it back together. “I can’t read it,” Shelly’s dad said, “he wrote it in Spanish I think.”

She peered over his shoulder and watched him reconstruct the single sheet of paper. It was old. It was written in Italian. Shelly didn’t read Italian but she could figure out that this was a paper that documented provenance of the artwork. At the top was printed ‘Galleria degli Uffizi’. She saw Boticelli’s name, she saw the name, Medici several times but without knowing the language that was all she could tell for sure. There was an old red wax seal in the bottom right corner fixed just below a scrawl that she assumed was some long-dead curator’s signature.

“See,” her dad said, “All legal.”

Shelly opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by another knock on the door.

“Stay out of sight Dad, that’s Toby. We’re supposed to have a date tonight. I’ll figure a way out of it.”

Her father seemed to shrink into the chair where he was seated and Shelly went to the door and opened it a crack. She made an excuse to Toby about having to fix the espresso machine and asked for a rain check. When he left she closed and re-latched the door.

“You coulda gone, Shelly. I’m not here to mess up your love life.”

“Forget it Dad, I’m not going to leave you in my shop unattended. There’s a shower and an extra room upstairs you can clean up and stay till morning but then you have to go.” She showed him his room and gave him a towel. Lying in her bed she listened to him move quietly in the back of the apartment.

At some point she must have drifted off because the next thing she knew her eyes popped open and the clock informed her that it was four am. The house was quiet and she knew he was gone and that she would have to call the Sheriff. His room was empty, the damp towel folded neatly at the foot of the bed. She hurried downstairs and found the front door pulled to, but unlatched. The Botticelli was hanging on the wall behind the NCR, and forty dollars had gone missing from the cash drawer.


%d bloggers like this: