There is a record store in a city I used to live in. It was situated almost directly between the apartment of a good friend and the subway, so I walked past it frequently in various states of sobriety and inebriation. Eventually, I began to stop in from time to time because the weather was nice and I didn’t want to go home, or I needed a Kinks album to round out my collection. One blindingly bright early spring day, the kind where the last snow is melting and it fragrances the air white and cold, but with promise and movement—on a day like that, a large man in a ragged suit stood tall in front of the shop’s front door and yelled at me about Jesus. JESUS SAVED YOU FROM YOUR SINS.
He blocked the path, and his overwhelming presence and incoherent assumptions about my personal life forced me to duck inside, band flyers flapping from their years-old residencies on the door. Inside, it was almost stiflingly warm; old speakers blasted some 60s girl group. A towhead with suspenders and glasses walked over, completely ignoring my personal space, and heaved one of those genuine sighs tinged with mounting excitement over an event that will eventually differentiate a day.
“That guy’s something, huh. Been out there all day!” He walked back behind the counter, pushed up his glasses (black-rimmed, this was Brooklyn after all) and turned down the music. “What’ll do it for you today?” I noticed his hair was straight on top, curly underneath. Blue eyes magnified by those glasses pinballed around the room. “I just beefed up our ‘90s hip-hop and we always have that doooo-wop, especially on my shift.”
A certain event occurs incredibly frequently in my life: the pendulum swing between a normal moment and what inevitably follows. The choice to make it awkward is mine, and whether I have any control over it is a contentious issue.
The obvious choice is, of course, to not make it awkward; but the simple fact is that this moment’s very existence in my mind, the space within I must make that choice, the freedom, the thinking—has always been my undoing. Sometimes people can and will find me charming, but so many other factors are involved: my level of ease and comedic timing; their receptiveness, kindness and kinship to an overthinking, nervous rambler; the topic of conversation. This is exactly the reason why I can appear aloof and antisocial to strangers, when I’m actually very friendly and garrulous. When I want to be. Through a lifetime of experience, I can safely pinpoint the one variable that will usually make or break all of my casual interactions.
The other party must also be a total fucking weirdo.
This needs more explanation. Kindred spirits are one thing; this is different. This is just communicating with someone that can follow an unconventional train of thought, a person that can keep up and not judge you—on the contrary, they like you. They relate to you. Similar interests and backgrounds don’t have to be involved; it’s just nerd tentacles.
Let’s fast-forward to the part where Benji, towheaded bespectacled person, gifts me a jar of homemade mango salsa. He tries to draw on my eyeliner and the effect is morbidly comical; he smears away my lipstick to even out the effect. Small, clear memories like these snap and billow like sails in a salt wind; they propel me in whatever direction they blow.
That day I made it awkward. I was drawn to him in a vague way, my written-in-air small female victories over any eligible male I cross paths with. And of course, when you want to charm is when you will inevitably fail. That day, I left with instructions to return tomorrow for my custom mix, dust in my lungs, that unmistakably addictive feeling of oh, that was fun. I guess it wasn’t that awkward.
And I still mourn my old life. I’m flowing under everyone, behind you. Covered by an inch of gray water, making ripples and ruining all the old photographs.
I walked the rest of the way home, working off the alcohol, working out what I would say to him next. The chance to fully memorize his appearance never presented himself during that half hour or so I spent in his store, and by the next week I had succumbed to the throes of obsession and eventually he developed a unique appearance I referenced often, though it looked nothing like him. In reality, I would soon find, his hair was wilder but his eyes still that beautiful clear blue behind the glasses. Though when he took them off they had that dopey unfocused look.
I came back for my custom mix not the next day, but the day after. That was definitely awkward.