Momentary encounters

When you live in a walking city like New York, you get used to hearing little snatches of accidental conversation – three second slices out of someone else’s life. Sometimes, if you happen to walk by at just the right moment, these little accidental edits of the thoughts of strangers can seem like Zen koans.

I often wonder whether this kind of tiny found-art sound byte – I suppose it would now be called a “tweet from the real world” – is really representative of its author, or whether it conveys a completely misleading impression.

This evening, as I was walking with some friends across town on Waverly Street, we passed by a rather intense looking man in his forties who was growling into his cellphone the phrase “…it was like something out of Robocop…”

I found myself trying to reconstruct what he might have been thinking as he said this. Was he thinking, perhaps, of the character of the Robocop himself, all stalwart steel armor and awkwardly half-remembered true love? Was it the fearsome wierdly bipedal cyborg, that ultimate killing machine run amok? Or perhaps he was referencing the delightful parodies of commercial TV ads and news shows that were sprinkled throughout the film. Somehow I doubted this last interpretation, because the man wouldn’t have been growling about something like that.

In the end, I realized that the mystery would need remain just that – a mystery, a momentary encounter with a stranger’s mind, tantalizing in its possibilities, yet always out of reach.

So different from that encounter I heard some years ago on these same streets. In this case it was a young couple walking side by side, the female half far shorter than the male half (she was perhaps two feet shorter than her companion). The young woman was craning her neck up to look at her mate, her face suffused with a very earnest expression. The only words I could hear her say, before the two of them retreated forever out of earshot, were “…but what do you mean Macrobiotic??…”

3 Responses to “Momentary encounters”

  1. Dagmar says:

    You could have just heard this one in a small office in Germany:

    A loud laughter from him.
    She, from the next room:”What are you laughing about?”
    He: “Ken’s blog, the punch line is very good”

    Thank you Ken! 🙂

  2. admin says:


  3. Johannes says:

    One of the strangest bits I’ve overheard were from a teenager saying something like “And then I ran into the room and killed everyone…” or something similarly extreme. Clearly the kid was talking about his actions in a computer game. Recounts like that are even weirder because the person is describing their own actions – just that they did it in the game world. In the above case it was instantly obvious that it happened in a game, but sometimes when the actions described are more believable you at first can’t tell which world they are talking about. Only when they say “… and then I used the spell to teleport to the other side of the world.” you realize what’s going on. The moment when you realize it, is almost like some kind of punchline..

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