The Encounter

By Jared Stutzman

Oh…pardon me…I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that the stunning uniqueness and individuality of your wardrobe caught me off guard. Vintage flannel and suspenders over an ironic T-shirt with distressed skinny jeans and Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars canvas-style tennis shoes? What’s that? Oh…you usually wear Tom’s for Men instead of Chuck Taylors…I see. Wow…it’s so fresh and original…and the hemp bracelet, too, and the shaggy hair peeking out from under your Castro hat, and your retro horn-rimmed spectacles, and—oh . my . goodness—is that really a tattoo I see on your ankle? That’s so tantalizingly rebellious…the ultimate act of self-expression. I’m really just in awe…it’s so rare to see someone dress like you. In fact, I admire your style so much that I’d like to learn everything about you—can we sit down and talk about it?

First off, I can’t help but notice your iPod—what music are listening to? What’s that? Ah. Some group I’ve never heard of, you say. Why are you so sure of that? Ah…because if I’ve heard of them, you would have to instantly stop liking them. I see. How would you describe them? Acoustic indie-folk-roots-rock-protest-punk with a touch of non-commercial jazz? And just a hint of authentic bluegrass. Ah…hum. And do you only listen to obscure music? What else is on your iPod? I see. Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. U2, naturally. The Beatles. Springsteen. Mmm-hmm. And a “graveyard” of groups you used to like until everyone else discovered them? I see. Say what? This isn’t your “real” music collection? Ah. Vinyl, you say. Really? You’ve actually dug out an old record player and begun collecting LPs? How stunningly unexpected and unlike everyone else in your peer group! You are so creatively retro! Wait—what’s this playlist I see on your iPod… “Mix list of Switchfoot/Toby Ma…” hey! Why’d you snatch it out of my hand? Why are you acting embarrassed?

Let’s change the subject…what’s your job? A non-profit organization raising awareness of climate change, hunger, racism, AIDS, and illiteracy. Uh—isn’t that a pretty widespread list of concerns? It must be a pretty large organization. How many people are employed there? Two. Two? Two employees, including you. I see. And…what is your role there? Social media consultant and fundraiser. Mmm-hmm. And the, uh, other employee? Social media manager and fundraiser. I see. So, I take it this organization decided to add a strong internet presence to its firmly established local…oh, it’s entirely internet-based? I see. Volunteer, you say. Well…then…if I may ask without seeming too crassly commercial…on what do you subsist? How do you earn enough money to buy food? Retail? At Target? Ah. And you have multiple applications in at independent coffee shops and restaurants all over the city and are just waiting for the right opportunity. Wow—that’s very conscientious of you, to work so hard as a volunteer while doing menial, purposeless commercial labor in real life—it must be difficult not to let it affect your soul.

And where have you chosen to live? A loft apartment in a mixed-used zone downtown in a renovated factory near the brewery district? How frighteningly authentic and gritty! You say it was either that or sharing a hundred-year-old house with five buddies in the historic neighborhood just off the square? Honestly, your living arrangement choices are shocking—I’ve never heard of such things—actually choosing to live downtown—living in the center of the action instead of abandoning the city for the suburbs. You were probably the first of your friends to decide that was a cool place to live, weren’t you? No one else had that idea first? You’ve really created a new paradigm for urban renewal—it’s such a novel concept.

And where do you shop? Farmer’s markets and thrift stores…organic, locally-and-sustainably-grown, fair-trade food only—yes, I can see the “Buy Local” bumper sticker on your Subaru.* I see. Never Wal-Mart or even the supermarket. Wal-Mart is the devil. You prefer artisanal craftsmanship in all of your purchases? Hmm…artisanal means…anything hand-made. Got it. For instance? Bread. OK, yes, I can see that— the local baker’s whole-grain oat-rye-flaxseed-honey loaf beats factory produced Wonder bread. What else can be called “artisanal?” Beer. Woodworking items. Coffee. Wait, coffee? But…it’s grown in South America and Africa—how is it artisanal or local?? Locally roasted. I see. You roast your own beans? Really? Wow! You’re something of a coffee connoisseur? How unusual and quirky! How totally unexpected and idiosyncratic! And you prefer light roasts and hate Starbucks? That’s very surprising, since Starbucks serves coffee and you seem to like coffee. I’d have thought…but no—they’re too commercial and they burn their coffee, you say? Wow. You certainly don’t fit into any predetermined social categories—I’m impressed with how boldly you defy social convention and expectation. I’m curious—does this preference for local, non-corporate goods extend to other areas of consumption … say, electronic devices? I only ask because I’ve heard that Apple products are manufactured in China, and…

Moving on then. Do you attend a church? Of course. Yes. You attended an “un-church” that cycled through several living rooms and strip-mall locations for a while, but now you go to a super-relevant, indie-liturgical, community-based, outreach-oriented fellowship that meets in a restaurant downtown? You value the inclusiveness, historical connection, and congregational participation. It effortlessly mixes timeless traditions with passing fads, you say? Plus, it’s cool to pretend you’re British? I see. So, that basically means standing and sitting at the appropriate times and saying creeds together and having communion. Say what? It’s called “Eucharist,” you say? Pardon me. The pastor/priest sprinkles his sermons liberally with references to popular culture? He doesn’t use a podium? How unconventional! Your church is truly a wonderful extension of your self-expression—it neatly fits in with the person you’ve chosen to be and the image you wish to cultivate.

Where did you attend before the “un-church?” You’ve matured since then, you say. You wouldn’t go there now. Right–I’m just curious, though. You say it was a large evangelical church with three services, a jammin’ worship band, and a happenin’ youth group and college-and-young-adults outreach? That was during your years at university? What’s that? You’re mumbling a bit now. You say you didn’t know any better at the time? They were so stodgy and suburban (I noticed how you spit that word out like it left a bad taste in your mouth) and Republican—they ran their church like a factory. I see. So very out-of-touch with the culture, indeed. What about before college, where you grew up—oh, I’m sorry. That seems to be a sensitive issue. Were you a…dare I ask…a Baptist? There, there—we won’t speak of it again.

Speaking of Baptists…how do you feel about alcohol consumption? You’re snickering—have I committed a faux pas? You say that by even asking the question I’m revealing my backwardness? I see. You prefer small-batch, artisanal craft beer or European imports. Or whiskey. Or Scotch. And you can’t believe how wrong-headed the American church is on this issue…I understand. It must be interesting, with your background, to delve into this new world of fine spirits after conscientiously skipping all the keggers in college. How does it feel to imbibe alcoholic drinks now after spending your childhood and early youth denouncing such consumption? Do you ever feel guilt—or feel that you need to compensate for your earlier … I’m sorry, is this making you uncomfortable? You don’t like to be reminded of your prior convictions about alcohol? I see…well, let’s move on then.

Do you enjoy art? Do you ever! Salvador Dalí. Picasso. Monet. Not Rembrandt, so much—cabbages are boring? Ah. Michelangelo. Pollock. You seem to be somewhat eclectic in terms of artistic style (huh? Oh, yes, of course you may take that as a compliment)—what shaped your artistic tastes? Where your parents art-lovers? No, not so much? You picked it up here and there, piecemeal. You have taught yourself enough to sound intelligent in conversations about works of art and stylistic approaches you’ve never actually seen yourself? Ah. Well, I’m just guessing here, based on your past, but how do you feel about Thomas Kincai…never say that name aloud in your presence again? Ah. OK.

Well…this has been an enlightening conversation. I will go back to my boring, irrelevant, backward existence, but I’m so happy to have had my world opened by exposure to someone as cool as you. I’m so taken with your originality, authenticity, grittiness and cultural relevance that I think I need to go find a quiet corner where I can be by myself and laugh.

Author’s note: A small portion of the humor and sarcasm in this piece is self-referential. Other portions poke fun at the tendencies of good friends of mine. It’s intended as a good-natured jab at the transitory nature of lifestyle and fashion trends—a reminder that cooler-than-thou snobbery isn’t cool, and that everyone’s hair looks ridiculous 15 years later.

Editor’s note about the author’s note: This is what we call a preemptive response to the angry Letters to the Editor.