The minute he eased himself onto the bench beside me I began to feel uncomfortable. I looked up at The Book Trader storefront, willing Ravena to walk out. He mumbled something to himself, but I was too wrapped up in my own awkwardness to make out what he was saying.
"That guy looked just like Tiny Tim," he said again, clearly lobbing the comment in my direction. Hasn't this guy heard of stranger danger? Those early lessons my mom taught me have stuck. My nodding head, however, was not going to be enough. "Didn't he?" Tiny Tim was someone I'd heard of, but I couldn't match that with a face. Bench man indicated that I must be too young (I am) and not so subtly asked if I had "the internet with me" and told me to look it up. Evidently, I was in this conversation.
It turns out stranger danger wasn't the only thing on my mind. In the few seconds during which this transpired, I remembered my grandma and the fact that she never met a stranger. That one was always eager to talk to any and everyone. I thought about how I'd want someone to respond if this were my grandma sitting on the bench, trying to make conversation, and about how old people can sometimes be lonely. I turned to look (really look) at Bench Man. Beside me sat an older gentleman with a Long Island accent, oddly reminiscent of my constitutional law professor. He had tortoise shell "Jackie O" sunglasses on over his glasses and a baseball cap perched on his head. You'll think I'm embellishing, but he really did have on shorts and those white, athletic socks pulled up as far as they'd go.
So, yeah, I was in the conversation, and what followed was a 5- to 10-minute discussion that ranged from Tiny Tim to whether Lady Gaga was just a wannabe Madonna to how crazy it was that Diana Ross was touring this summer. Before I knew it, he got up, thanked me for a lovely conversation and disappeared into the throngs of pedestrians along the street.
That conversation--sitting on a park bench across from The Book Trader in downtown Philadelphia--ended up being one of the best parts of my entire weekend.