Monday, October 13, 2014

Small Talk With A Homeless Dude

... is pretty tough.

Yesterday, my wife and I were having lunch after Mass on an outdoor patio at a local Mexican place. We saw a homeless fellow walk by, take a look in the trash and then wander around. My wife got up and offered to buy him lunch. He sat down at the table next to ours while she went inside to order. It was then that I realized how hard it was to chat with him.

His name was Dwight. Dwight looked like he'd spent the night in the bushes. He was pretty baked as well, only marginally able to hold a conversation. Beer or cheap wine was my guess. We talked about the weather and he told me about the ocean temperature and what that meant and I asked if he was from San Diego and he pointed in the direction of where he was born.

And then the conversation stopped.

What do you ask? Where do you live? How are things in the bushes? What's the foraging like these days?

After an awkward silence, I asked if he'd lived anywhere else. That was a good line as it gave him his chance to spin a yarn about having traveled the world. He was pretty drunk or maybe his brain had been fried from bouts of drinking, so his speech was difficult to understand. I was able to pick out the word "Shanghai" and that led me to ask if he'd been in the Navy. Jackpot again. He launched into another unintelligible story about serving on the Enterprise and something or other. It wasn't important that the stories were true or even whether or not I understood them, it was just a chance to show him some affection.

When I work downtown, the conversations start themselves. It's a customer-clerk relationship. The business end of the deal keeps the conversation going and everything flows from that. In this case, there was no such anchor and keeping it going was much, much harder.

We left Dwight with a hearty lunch and he was shoveling it into his mouth almost with the palms of his hands when we left. From the looks of things, he'd been drinking whatever money he had found and food had been cut from the budget.

I'm still not quite sure where I should have gone with our confab.

Here's a site with suggested conversation starters. It's decent, but I feel like I'd tried those. The housed-homeless cultural gap can be tough to bridge, I guess.

1 comment:

tim eisele said...

Well, I don't know if I'd notice much of a difference. I have a hard time making small talk with *anybody*.