Thursday, August 12, 2010

Uncomfortable Silence

Since I moved into the boyfriend's apartment on the 8th floor, as well as starting my job on the 12th floor, I have come to realize how common it is for people to be uncomfortable with silence in elevators.

Typically, if I don't know the person in the elevator or other public space, I don't talk to them.  Exceptions are when we have a shared experience worth commenting on ("I guess it needed convincing" when the elevator door refuses to close without emphatic door-close-button presses), or some other relevant reason to engage an otherwise complete stranger ("your bag is open" or "you dropped your child's shoe").  Not so for many fellow elevator-riders.

Perhaps they think that chatting in the elevator will help them make friends with one of the hundreds they share the building with, but it's kind of sad and more uncomfortable when they grasp at flimsy straws to make conversation for the 20 seconds we spend together. The worst ones are when all they do is start listing things I am carrying.

The other day, I was taking up some groceries from the parking level, and though I shared a ride for only one level, the elevator moves at the speed of smell and the swimsuit-clad man I shared the car with managed to make me really uncomfortable with his awkwardness.  The conversation went something like this:
Man: "You got some Snapple there."
Me: "What? Um, yeah."
Man: "You're set to go!"
Me: "Huh?? Oh yeah I guess. I like Snapple."
Man: "Snapple is great."
*elevator doors open for the man to leave*
Man: "Take it easy."

This morning I was particularly reluctant to be awake and arriving at work, so I was especially weirded out by a stranger attempting to be friendly.  I think I invited conversation for mumbling, "Thank you" when the man gestured for me to get in the elevator first (what can I say: I always reward gentleman behavior).  I made lasagna for dinner last night and was bringing leftovers for lunch.  Finding nothing else to say and obviously obligated to speak, he commented on the, "delicious- and healthy-looking" food I was carrying in tupperware that was far too large for the meal it was containing.

Why can people not stand even a moment's silence anymore?  I think the iPod might be to blame, as virtually everyone walks or bikes places with earbuds drowning out the dull silence of travel.  I, too, am guilty of music playing in my car 99% of the time.  But I can still appreciate silence.  For example, I like to mute the stereo during heavy rain so I can listen to it rapping on my car roof.  I also was always the rare case of a USC student biking to class or work and actually being aware of my surroundings. 

Why listen to pre-recorded music you've heard 1000 times when you can be amused by the colorful characters on the street?  Like a sorority girl failing to control her pink beach cruiser while she talks on the phone and crosses the street, and then crashes into an innocent pedestrian.  Or the nonsensical babble uttered by the regular hobos.  Or the cat-calls from the 12-year-old 5th graders at the hood's grade school.

The world is full of crazy people, which makes for great people watching, and you're going to miss it if you're always racing to fill your silence. 

shut up once in a while and be an observer.

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