In a city of 8 million people, you’d think it wouldn’t be too often that you ran into people. However, in my six years of living here, my policy of being a-okay with talking with strangers and proclaiming to become BFFs over flavored vodka drinks has me wide-eyed with the regularity with which I run into people.
It’s understandable that I can’t walk down the street in Boystown without seeing fifteen people I know. When it comes to the gays, I’m the gayest non-gay person in that hood. Between dinners at Minibar/Winebar, nights out at Sidetrack, charity events for any number of gay-oriented organizations, and my ever-increasing social network with that particular demographic, of course I’m going to know a bunch of people around there.
Lately coincidental stumbles from outside the gay-borhood have been especially frequent. I can’t subscribe to some cosmic pull bringing people from my past back into the forefront, but here they are anyway.
Last night I was walking home from work, when some guy came running out of the bar shouting, “Jo! Jo!”
I was far enough away to not think he was yelling at me, but I turned around anyway. My mental rolodex is pretty keen, and I narrowed him down to one of three of the cards in that never-ending file. The guy from kickball? My friend’s friend with the awesome wife? Some guy from the charity poker event I attended?
I got confirmation when his friend also exited the hotel bar, snapping both into context. The poker event it was.
After losing, the first guy started pounding the free drinks and went to the outside patio to smoke and talk with his then-girlfriend on the phone. The other guy and I went out for beers after the event, getting along pretty well. However, I ignored his future phone call for completely reasonable reasons.
Recently another person has thrown me off a bit in our coincidental encounters. Many moons ago I dated someone known as Shirtless Running Guy. (All guys get a name along these lines. It’s easier than saying, “Jason. No, not *that* Jason. The other Jason.”) There’s a beautiful blog entry I never got the cajones to post about him and how our lives wove this interesting little pattern in a three-year stretch that dates back to the Benito days.
And there he was, his face squinted in half-recognition, from across the gym. I was equally squinting (mine more a myopic narrowing of the eyes), feeling my nervous system working up to that freak-out that happens when you pass a cop going 5 over the speed limit. I averted my eyes and kept my focus on the workout at hand, later sending a quick email to address the spotting so it wouldn’t later be a big deal.
I got an email immediately back saying, “Ah, yes. I thought that was you. You weren’t wearing your glasses, and your hair is a lot different. Good to see you.”
On Saturday I had to do a little hiding, this time thankful for the new glasses and hair color making me unrecognizable by those from years passed. When I first moved to Chicago I had a friendly encounter with KungFu Jeff. (Again with the names!) There was nothing romantic about this whatsoever, and it was one of the things I very much appreciated about him.
KungFu Jeff and I used to go on random adventures in the city. We were walk-on extras in a movie. We attempted to launch modeling careers. We got drunk in a Starbucks on Rush Street. When I became employed, our daytime adventures came to a stop, and we eventually lost touch. Years later I ran into him working as a bouncer for a dirtbag bar I went to that night. He handed me a wad of free drink tickets and asked that I stick around at the end of the night.
Beers at the booth once the bar cleared out. Pizza from the late night stand. Phone numbers re-exchanged.
We met up a few more times for drinks and to hang out. Then one night it all came to a shattering end. KungFu Jeff decided that we should be more than friends, landed a smooch on me, and thought my insistence that that not happen ever again was actually me playing coy. Another landed smooch, I put on my jacket, picked up my purse, and ignored the two messages he left in the subsequent days.
Walking across Rush, there he was. Sometimes I swear my eyes have that face recognition software. In what was essentially a blink, I established that it him and was able to turn appropriately to keep my face hidden.
Avoidance. It happens.
And that was that.
The final recent running-into is actually quite upsetting. I was once quite close with this girl, and things drifted apart after I decided that she wasn’t someone I wanted to have around. There was always something going wrong with her, and it was dragging me down.
Her mom needing financial assistance. A whorebag friend embarrassing her at work functions. Her jackass boyfriend leading her on before screwing someone else. On and on and on.
I was walking back from the gym one afternoon, rocking the typical pencil skirt and fuck-me heels that make up my not-winter wardrobe. From afar I saw that jackass boyfriend of hers. Just as Shirtless Running Guy had a few questions about my identity, Jackass only met me once and certainly wouldn’t recognize me now.
As we got closer, his glare became even more obscene and intense. And then as we passed, he grunted.
I was so taken aback by his animalistic thrusting noise, I even couldn’t muster one of my typical jaw-dropping comebacks. I felt dirty for the appalling assault on my appearance, sad that my former friend chose to be with someone like that, and amazed that someone with those sorts of true colors would be allowed to respire the same air you and I breathe day in and day out.
I’ll take awkward encounters with charity-goers, gym patrons, and KungFu fighters any day. Just keep your grunters away.