Storytime Among Strangers

December 7, 2008

A silly idea. That was my first thought when told I had to write on a card something people would be surprised to learn about me.

Because I only knew a few people at the pot-luck dinner, anything I wrote would be a surprise except to my wife. I became more intrigued when told not to sign my name. The cards would be drawn from a bowl one at a time and read aloud. The fifteen attendees would have to guess the author.

All of the guests were younger than me, some by three decades. What could we possibly have in common? We ate dinner not at a table but spread around the Pearl District loft. Many of the people worked together and huddled in groups.

At storytime we gathered around a coffee table. The host pulled the first card from the bowl and read. Once identified as authors of our personal revelations, we answered questions and filled in details. Pretenses melted. Walls came down.

A twenty-something woman with flowery tattoos emblazoned on her arms talked of flying a World War II fighter plane. The host, another young woman, described backing up a semi-tractor trailer at age fourteen to help her father load fresh-cut hay. A young man told of getting attacked by a security guard’s German shepherd while drunkenly vandalizing a golf course and ending up in jail with twenty-seven stitches. A man closer to my age revealed he’s been driving despite having his license suspended for repeatedly getting caught not wearing his seat belt. I summarized my “rescue” of a barkless dog. My wife, Suzame, told of her dead-eye accuracy with a .38 revolver (lucky for me there are no guns in our house). And so on.

As each person spoke, they looked different. They gestured more. Their faces animated. I pictured them in the circumstances they described. With each story, they came alive. For the moment, we were strangers no more.