Is conversation an art?

Sunday morning, a couple of weeks ago,  I was walking to my car in an inner-city car park when the cleaner approached me. Clutching my daughter a little closer I fished my purse to the bottom of my handbag and turned to answer this raggedy old guy. “Lucky start in life you’ve got little one.”

If I’m truly honest my pretentious self-righteous self-ticketing personality thought at this point – get away from us you creepy old weirdo and feigned a half-smile before clicking my automatic key to unlock the car repeatedly. I thought he got the message, and relieved, started loading up my baby and every single thing that I have to carry with me when we leave the house, into my Yaris. Turns out he didn’t. 

When I re-emerged from my bent over position from the backseat of the car there he was again for a double dip in the conversational pool. 

“You might be wondering why I said she’s got a lucky start in life” Nope, I wasn’t. Another awkward half-smile. Turns out this guy was not easily deterred. 

He went on to tell me for the next twenty minutes about the time he spent as a pilot for the Royal Flying Doctors as well as in the RAAF and the graphic things he’d seen from the devastation of natural disasters. This then turned into a story about the wanted drug dealer on the sixth floor of the car park who was in Australia on an illegal passport. He told me about the homeless people that they let stay in the car-park between 11pm and 6am and the carnage that ensued from people taking advantage of this unmonitored free shelter initiative that he put through to the council. 

The twenty minutes of story telling I said nothing but wow, and a couple of reallys, with a few mmms. And it made me realise that the last time I listened to someone, that I didn’t know, or have any vested interest or gain in, was too far long in the past that I can barely recall it. 

The only time I feel compelled to delve into ‘weirdos’ stories is when their Facebook statuses or tweets are too tragic to look away, but even then I’m reading their edits. 

This guy, who I’ve never seen before and may never see again had no edit, no filter and probably no Facebook account. I don’t know his name or if he was even telling the truth and I can’t work out, for the life of me, why an ex-pilot would spend his Sundays in a ripped and faded t-shirt that says – Sizzling Summer Deals – cleaning the rubbish from inner-city car-parks.  

He had a story to tell, and so do most people and I’ve realised that in this high-paced deadline-driven self-advancing generation that I’ve found myself in I don’t have time to hear anyone’s story longer than 160 characters. When Louis Armstrong wrote his song What A Wonderful World, I don’t think he had his eyes glued to a smartphone scanning people’s selfies of rainbow coloured faces, and shaking hands and babies crying although there are no shortage of that in my news feed. I think he was sitting on a park bench talking to strangers and people-watching. 

I hope this art is never lost.

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