I have a vast collection of business cards. They’re from my very close friends. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember the people who gave them to me. In fact, they’re probably looking at the cards I gave them in exchange, wondering who in the hell I am.
But they were, at the time, extremely close friends. This is because I have the habit of meeting total strangers at coffee shops or traveling by plane and exchanging life stories with them.
Last summer, when I was hoping to become a big-time star in Hollywood, I became very close to a guy who was waiting in line with me. We sat for hours, watching the tourists go through the lot on their buses, with the loudspeaker crackling about how Apollo 13 had been made here, and tried to exude a proper air of world-weariness and faded glamour so the tourists wouldn’t think we were nobodies. We exchanged stories — his about a brother who had recently died from colon cancer, mine about my own bout with breast cancer — then, finally, were called in to tell our stories to the camera.
We parted as very good friends. He swore he’d be reading my blog faithfully. I promised I’d look up his famous Christmas design extravaganza on the Internet. I remember him fondly, but have no idea what his name was and, of course, never got around to looking him up on the Internet.
That’s the funny thing about these instant, seemingly intimate friendships: They have the shelf life of a ripe banana. Either you follow them up immediately — within a week, say — or you’re never going to do it at all. Try getting in touch with your new friend six months or a year from now and you’ll look like a stalker.
Like that really great guy my husband and I met when we were in Edinburgh, Scotland, a couple of summers ago. He worked at the hotel where we stayed and was so charming and helpful. Naturally, we gave him our cards and insisted that he visit us if he ever came to Austin. We were very sincere at the time, but, all these years later, would be amazed — and a little disturbed, probably — if he called us. (Some nutcase with a Scottish accent! Claims he knows us! Hang up the phone!)
Reading this over, I recall the many times I’ve heard Americans — and Texans, in particular — are superficially friendly in an ultimately meaningless way, kind of like overgrown puppies. I’m sure these people must have been talking about somebody else. Not us, surely. Someone else, don’t you think?
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)