13 December, 2009

The best conversation ever

So, I was walking to a cash machine and just before I reached the cash machine a guy passed me on the street, jerked his head back towards me, and called something that sounded congenial. I shrugged because I don't know anyone but maybe he thought that he knew me or else he liked my hair. I looked down and saw that the guy was wearing pinstriped trousers tucked into boots, causing him to sort of resemble a clown.

When I reached the cash machines there was someone at one of them and I started trying to engage the other one, taking a while to realize that it didn't work. The pinstriped guy was standing there. "How're you doing, babe?" said the guy, who was wearing not just pinstriped pants but an entire pinstriped suit, under an army jacket. He had pale skin and soft-looking dark hair. He was, in short, the kind of guy I would want to make out with if I wanted to make out with guys (although, by the end of the conversation I was ready to hand in my gold star).

I said I was okay. "Confusing, aren't they?" the guy said. "Cash machines. Money enslaves us all."

At this point I knew that I was supposed to parse him as someone who had a mental illness and/or had ingested a bunch of drugs, so I did some wallet-clutching as I tried to say something about how it's true that money isn't very good, but at the same time what would the world be like if it wasn't organized by something. But I didn't get very far. I was still trying to insert my card into the machine because I hadn't realized it was broken yet; the guy was already using the machine next to me, which had been vacated.

"The thing about Athens," he said--Edinburgh is supposed to be the Athens of the UK, or something--"everyone says it was such a great civilization. It lasted fifty years! And besides women couldn't vote, and most of the population were slaves!"

"Yeah, they weren't very nice people," I said.

"We're no better. We still have slaves now. They're just called 'workers.'"

"Is your machine working?"

"Is it working?" the pinstriped guy repeated. He leaned down, looked into the screen of his cash machine, and asked it, "Are you working?"

"What happened to your hand?" I asked when he took his money out of the machine. His right hand was stained black.

"I'm an artist," he said as I took my place in front of the machine.

"And you were painting an all-black painting?"

"No, no, I was working with inks," said the guy. Then he slapped me on the back and ran away. As I was walking home, I wondered what was wrong with him and wished it was wrong with more people.

And when I got home, I realized that if the cash machine had been located on the Oberlin College campus, I wouldn't have even done any wallet-clutching because it's within the range of my experience for people at Oberlin to act exactly like that. So the experience seems strangely significant and touching to me now, and I'm more excited than ever to think that I'll be back there in three weeks.

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