POV: Strangers.

Friday, July 5, 2013

POV ("point of view") is a series that addresses many of the same themes covered in my Equals Record column: growing up, saying yes to adventure, learning to embrace a quarter-life crisis. Each POV entry will include a photograph and a short reflection based on what’s pictured. While my previous column focused largely on ideas, POV will focus on moments - glimpses, glances, tiny stories.  

I was sitting in a coffee shop near my apartment writing emails from a large communal table in the middle of the room, when the woman next to me tapped me on the shoulder. "I see you here all the time," she said. "I feel like we're coworkers. What's your name?" 

 Hours earlier, I'd talked with a shopkeeper who’d walked by as I read a book on a neighbor’s stoop. “You look like a strong woman,” he said to me. “You don’t need a man to define you. I can tell.” 

 Later that week, I waited for a friend in front of a cafe near McCarren Park. A long-haired man in a pink crushed-velvet blazer burst through its doors with such urgency that I was sure we must be in the path of some fast-approaching catastrophe.

“What's going on?” I asked.

“Holy shit,” he said, breathless. He pointed up the street. A woman was walking a Siberian Husky. “That dog is amazing.”

In New York, I’m constantly interacting with strangers. Most of these encounters, it seems, are arbitrary, incidental, haphazard - until they’re not. When we first met, did you ever guess we’d end up here? is a recurring conversation in many of my friendships.

Then again, there are instances in which I’ve share meals, or drinks, or many days and nights with someone; time passes, and they’re strangers again. You can, it turns out, have a half-hour-long conversation about amazing dogs on the streets of Williamsburg and never see or speak to that person again. 

I recently ordered a coffee from a woman who, as soon as I uttered the words cold brew, burst into tears at the register. 

“Are you okay?” I asked. 

She looked at me. “I don’t know you,” she said.


On the fourth of July, three days after moving in to our new apartment, Lily and I took a break from unpacking and found seats outside a neighborhood sandwich shop. 

“This time last year I had just moved here from Melbourne and I was drunk on a rooftop,” Lily said, “I was shouting ‘America!’ to people on the street below.”

“I was in Central Park,” I said. “Listening to fireworks that I couldn’t see.”

This was before we’d met, by chance, in the grass at East River Park on a blisteringly hot day in August. We’d both recently been in long-term relationships that had ended abruptly. We’d gotten sunburns that day, talking about loneliness and empty beds.

“This time next year, we’ll remember we were here at this sandwich shop,” Lily said. “Maybe we’ll be re-signing our lease.”

“I’ll be saying something really cheesy,” I added, “like, look how far we’ve come!’”

She smiled. “That’s exactly what you’d say.”

Water sprayed from opened fire hydrants in towering arcs above our heads. Children ran through in flip-flops; parents played chess at card tables on the sidewalk.

We picked up our things, began our walk home. “This time next year, we’ll remember this conversation,” Lily said. She paused. “Or not - probably not.” 

We smiled at our neighbors, exchanged pleasantries with people we didn’t know.

Things more far-fetched have happened, I said. We were strangers once, too.

You can find my previous POV entries, here, and the archive for my personal essay column on the Equals Record, hereThank you so much for reading.


girlseeksplace said...

Love it.

hiladil said...

I have been loving your POV posts and look forward to them every week. They are so intimate and magical.

Paw said...

So free. I love this. xxoo

max said...


Raquel R. said...

Your POV posts always unveil a new perspective of things, like these random moments, that can change our lives.

tara said...

I love this post. As always.

I love that the woman said you're like co-workers! How fun. It makes me want to go to a coffee shop.

Anonymous said...

really enjoyed this. thanks for sharing.

Shoko said...

Thank you so much, everyone!

Kelly said...

What Max said!

Julia said...

What a beautiful post! The line,"Then again, there are instances in which I’ve share meals, or drinks, or many days and nights with someone; time passes, and they’re strangers again" is especially heartbreakingly wonderful.

angela said...

It sounds like a lovely sense of community. So nice!

Shoko said...

Julia, thank you!


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