Beauty and the Art of Conversation

My father, Lazard, was in the furniture business his entire adult life. First, in the family business and then, owning his own stores. He was a great salesman. He was a snazzy dresser, always dapper, charming, and a great conversationalist. He once told me that some of the best conversations he ever had were with total strangers. He loved having authentic conversations and learning about people. When he died, so many people told me that they remember how he took the time to talk with them. He made them feel heard and important. For my father, conversation was an art and a gift that he shared with others.

I, for better and worse (according to my daughter), have inherited his love and knack for talking with strangers. I may have trouble at parties, but I’m at the top of my game on the subway, in a corner store, or other anonymous public space. I think the difference is the random nature of the interaction and lack of expectation. There is no desired outcome to impress, entertain, learn. The sole motivation is to connect – even if its just for a short subway ride.

Last week, I got on the subway and sat in the corner seat. If you are not familiar with the NYC subways, many of the trains have a small seat at the ends of each train car. The seat is large enough for 2 people and there is a small seat just opposite. These seats are highly coveted.

Sitting across from me was a young woman, applying her makeup. She was wearing a skirt and top, and combat boots. She also had unicorn-colored streaks in her hair and several tattoos. At the same station, a youngish man sat down next to her. Based on his clothing, he was a person of the Orthodox Jewish faith. And, next to me, another young woman.

At first, the three women continued sitting quietly applying make-up, listening to music, and scrolling through texts. Then, the man turned towards the woman applying her make-up and said “you like nice.” You could see that she was a bit annoyed and did not respond. Then he asked another question about her tattoos and the color of her hair. Finally, he asked her name. She said her name, he said “nice to meet you. My name is ____.) Then he said “I’m getting off at 34th street, where are you getting off?” She was getting off at 79th.

He turned to me, asked me my name and where I was getting off. I responded and he introduced himself, his new friend, and their respective stops. Then, he asked the woman next to me the same questions and proceeded with more introductions. We chatted about where we were going, the lovely color of the woman’s hair, and how we were all wearing black – true New Yorkers. As the first of us got off, the young man said “If I see you again, I’ll say hi.” We all agreed that we would do the same.

Not every subway conversation is welcome. I have been in and seen conversations where it is best not to respond. However, this was not that encounter. It was nice, friendly, and authentic.

I thought, all day, about the random encounter. It created a sense of connection, happiness, and hope – at least for me. I can’t speak for the others as we all got off at separate stops. I like to imagine that if we got off at the same stop, we would have walked together just a little bit longer.

We teach children to not speak with strangers – for good reason. But, as adults, I do recommend being open to random conversations and making friends in unlikely places.

Thanks, dad, for teaching and sharing with me the beauty of casual conversation.


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