Getting up the nerve to give out stars after a hiatus is hard. I find the best opportunities mean I would have to come clean about eavesdropping. Like yesterday, when I heard two professors discussing the usefulness of Wikipedia. One spoke, guiltily, of having used the Internet resource in large part because it was what always came up when he searched Google. The other shook his head.
“It’s hard because I tell my students not to use it, but then I use it myself.” He looked sheepishly down into his coffee, humbled by his own admission. But, then he explained, “To be fair,” he said, “I use it as a means, not an end, while for them it’s the end.”
I so wanted to give him a gold star for his admission of hypocrisy, however justified. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to interrupt, to insert myself. I would have if I’d been leaving, but I wasn’t, I was staying. So were they. It would have been awkward for them to resume their conversation without being conscious of me.
Today, in the same café, talking to a friend, wrapping up, a man I’ve given a gold star to, another professor, an English professor, inserted himself. I didn’t mind. Our more personal discourse had turned to literature, to Charles Bukowski, whose work I was reading for the first time.
I was speaking of the book I had chosen as my intro to the prolific poet and novelist known mostly for his drinking and womanizing, a novel aptly named Women.
“My God it’s tough to read,” I said. "He just goes from woman to woman to woman! I was so grossed out I didn’t want my husband to touch me!”
The professor piped up then. “It was four a year,” he said.
I turned to him. I hadn’t realized he was listening, but of course. So would I have been, so had I the day previous.
“Really?” I said, shocked. “It seems like a lot more than that…”
He nodded. “I know,” he said, “but it’s a novel, it’s sped up. I counted. I actually wrote a book about Bukowski.”
I laughed. “Of course you did.”
I love this café. I love Brooklyn. The odds of meeting an expert on whatever topic you happen to be talking about are always good, scarily good.
We chatted a bit about Bukowski, about the best of his works (the prof suggested poetry compilation War All the Time and short story compilation Hot Water Music, “especially the story about phone sex…”) and then my friend and I left, off to our separate errands.
Once alone, I looked around closely for gold star giving opportunities. I hadn’t given the prof or my friend stars, though both deserved them for their interesting and interested chatting abilities. I feel weird about giving our repeat stars, though, don’t know how often is too often, how many would render their affect useless. But I think sometimes that not giving them to those closest to me, those I see often is a sad metaphor for the way in which we often fail to validate the efforts of those we interact with regularly so I have to be cognizant of that.
I’m thinking this as a man walks by. He is smokin’. I laugh to myself thinking, ‘could I give out stars to people simply for being hot?’ I suppose if I were single it might be a great pick-up tactic. As it is, I didn’t try it. I kept my stars in my bag and moved on. My hubby would be proud.
I read Bukowski on the train with a renewed thoughtfulness, imagining it as a scholarly enterprise. I was engrossed. As I got up to get off the train at Rockefeller Center, I noticed a man who had been sitting just across from me.
“Hello Stranger,” I said, “you never write you never call…” It was a friend I never see from my hometown, Tucson, my best friend from growing up’s younger brother. It was so good to see his face, however strange it always is to see him as a man when I think of him as a boy, the one we made fetch water for our dinner parties, whose room we raided if we needed change.
I got out a big gold star and gave it to him.
“Why do I deserve this?” he asked.
I laughed, remembering the ways we tortured him. “For growing up with me!” It was a great way back in to gold star giving, offering one up to an old friend, a friendly face to be sure on an otherwise stranger-filled train platform. The rest of the day, at the dentist and beyond, the stars flew out of my hands easily. The one to the woman on her second of five oral surgeries was certainly deserving. Hiatus officially over.