If you don’t do it every time, you’ve done it at least once. You’re waiting in line at the market. You have your options: peruse the tabloid headlines, pretend to be considering a pack of Trident, or look ahead of you on the black belt and see what the other guy is bringing home.
You’re watching them, and they’re watching you. Saturday morning, me: 16 oz. cup coffee, breakfast sandwich. Bought for someone else. Him: One quart half and half, sixteen ounces coffee, one package Oscar Meyer turkey franks and two packages Top Ramen, Oriental Flavor (the blue one).
I like him already. The cashier asks if he’s a member (the market is a co-op) and he says, No, but I’m an old guy, and smiles. She smiles too and pushes the button that applies the senior citizen discount.
I am already creating in my head the story of his life. My imagination answers the questions that might be rude or at least weird to ask. I am already romanticizing his childhood in rural New York, time spent traveling with the Merchant Marine, his first romance with an American girl studying abroad, his pride when his only son was the first in the family to graduate from college.
This is work best left to the novelists and story tellers. What I would like to know is the truth.
There are many out there that are quick to tell their tale, and it’s not that I find those uninteresting, but there is something in me that is most drawn to those who don’t tell.
Those feelings, experiences, successes and failures that mostly go untold and are replaced by heroes, tragedy, wealth and fortune. Yet, it is those stories which are most universal. Those stories make us feel a kinship with our neighbors. They are news, over the news.
A war story does little to draw attention if the character is not real. A Hollywood saga would hardly draw a crowd if the characters were not human, full of doubt, imperfection and a story.
We call them human interest stories, as though they are separable from any other stories. Every time a number is listed in the New York Times: 30 in 100 households, 10,000 protestors, 75% of Americans. Each number had infinitesimal stories that unravel as the blanket wears and frays.
Still we feel so often that our own lives are not very interesting. We think, how could my turkey franks make me fascinating to someone. Well . . . we might not think that exact sentiment.
Here is the point. In a society where we criticize the movement away from society and towards cybersociety, these stories are what will bring us back. Taking the time to know the individual. Like Joseph Mitchell, Joan Didion, Mike Royko.
Journalism deserves a return to and enhancement of a time before sensationalism. Because the little stories tell the big stories. No matter how small.