The first time I met Zach Dodson, I offered him a plate of cookies. He clapped his hands together, squealed “OoOOH!”, then hung his head and said, “That wasn’t good.” Things haven’t gotten much better. Since then, Zach has put up with me as his chucklehead intern, spent the better half of a night in a hot pink Chinese-massage-parlor-cum-bar, and has, at my behest, humiliated himself before a large audience – twice. I would call it an abusive relationship if he wasn’t doing it to himself. Given the amount of pride Zach has sacrificed in my sake, I suppose asking him to suggest an assignment & expecting him to go easy on me was something like holding raw steak before a starving wolf & telling it to chew slowly. The exact email went something like this:

For one month, 30 days, each day you must approach a stranger and 1. tell them something awkward about yourself AND 2. ask them an uncomfortable/personal question. And record the results. That’s 30 strangers.

Now, there aren’t too many restrictions, but the group of strangers must be demographically varied, and there should be a variety of questions as well. I.E. asking 30 cute drunk boys at the Rainbo whether they wear boxers or briefs is not going to fly.

Horrified as I am that my former employer’s lasting impression of me is “Girl who Hangs out at Rainbo & has No Qualms Asking Boys About Their Underwear”, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about this one. Excited, & anxiously awaiting to be bludgeoned to death by the people of Chicago.

Knowing I would be taking on a solid 30 days of Q & A, I decided to keep a notebook of each fact I gave, each question I asked & each response I got. As it’s been over a week since June 22, I’ve listed the majority of my Q & A responses here, but, for the inquisitive, things you may wish to know:

1. People do not react well to unexpected situations.
2. People do not react well to being probed with unexpected questions.
3. They react less well to such questions when riding the CTA.
4. On their way to work.
5. At 8:30am.
6. Sitting next to me.

Most people I’ve encountered opt for the Ignore-and-Shift-Weight move, choosing to regard me as a lavishly bangled crazy lady rather than respond to my prying. Thankfully (for Zach, if no one else), not everyone in the world is so passive-aggressive.

Thursday ( 06.26.08 )
In a morning toss up between punctuality & coffee, I chose coffee. I sprinted my way onto the blue line, coffee extended before me like an Olympic flame, & slammed onto the train, grabbing one of the empty seats left by the Good Chicagoans who get to work on time.

The problem with morning commute coffee is that, though necessary to comprehend any reading material you might bring on the train, holding your coffee renders reading impossible, so you sit there, coffee arm extended, absorbing the rush hour experiences of your fellow commuters.

At Division, a woman boarded & sat beside me. She pulled out the Red Eye, shifted a socially appropriate distance from me & set to work on a crossword puzzle. She seemed nice enough – immobile blond hair; cropped blue jeans with an inch of ankle exposed between the cuff & her bobby socks; a shoulder bag brandishing her support for marine wildlife everywhere. I decided her name was likely that of woman who loved Arbor Mist & Julia Roberts, something which went well with ‘Aunt” – Lorrie, perhaps. Watching her from the corner of my eye, I knew Lorrie was the sort of woman who’d be receptive to my project, eager to share in her personal quirks & not in the least jarred by this unique encounter, so different from any other of her previous commutes. At ten to nine, I cleared my throat &, as casually as our train seats would allow, turned to Lorrie, ready to launch.

“Every morning, I do fifty lunges while I’m getting ready. To keep in shape.”

Lorrie stiffened ever so slightly. Perhaps there was some reluctance on her part, but I was only halfway through with my day’s assignment. I pressed on.

“Do you work out?”

In hindsight, it might have been less jarring, less, well, inappropriate, if I had begun this one with the question instead of the fact, but once it was out there was no taking it back, & I could only push on. Lorrie continued to ignore me, & I began to grow frustrated – this was the fifth time that I’d engaged in this Q&A, & being wholly ignored again was just too frustrating. Someone had to acknowledge my existence. Someone had to be human enough to have a reaction to another person speaking to them. Someone did – & if Lorrie could support marine life, then why the hell couldn’t she support me?

“Excuse me,” I continued, looking directly at her. “But I was wondering – do you work out?”

Lorrie thwacked her paper to her knee & turned to me.


She barked at me with unparalleled self-importance, like a neurosurgeon to a chatty intern (I am PERFORMING a BIOPSY! Now relinquish my lab coat, you undereducated ninny. Nurse! Bring forth my forceps. & a vodka martini). She flicked her paper again. I steamed. Who was this woman? Was Lorrie always this evil? Lorrie – such a sweet, pink carnation loving name no longer suited my fellow commuter. I looked at her &, feeling my eyes upon her shoulder she flicked her paper again, snorting not just a little. Brunhilda, I thought. Brunhilda. I glared at her as I said it over & over in my mind: Brunhilda. Brunhilda! BRUNHILDA!! I envisioned a childhood drenched in pre-pubescent agony: little Brunhilda on a blacktop while girls with naturally straight teeth closed in; a tri-braided girl at Six Flags crying before a display of mugs that went straight from Bertina to Buffy with nary a name between them; a tear-streaked child whimpering softly as her mother, swigging violently from a bottle of Boone’s Farm, bellowed from her hammock MOVE OUTTA THE WAY BEFORE I REALLY GIVE YOU SOMETHIN TO CRY ABOUT.

The blue line screeched into Clark & Lake, & I gathered my things, muttering “Excuse me” to the blond haired harpy on my right. She shifted to the side & I siddled my way past her delicately, gingerly, smiling as I passed by. I let my indignity pass & left my seatmate quietly, in peace. I was still a bit miffed, but the more I thought of it, the more I felt that maybe she needed these moments. Perhaps these were the few slivers of time in which she could find some solace in the chaos which was her life. Nodding in her direction, I deboarded the train, & though I longed to say goodbye, I was silent. After all, Brunhilda was doing a crossword.