The four women at central library

The four women at central library

Scarfie culture: it’s a beast that thrives in this fine province that people from all around New Zealand, and the world, come to. It pushes us to go crazy on Thursdays and Saturday nights, and challenges us to challenge the limits of our bodies and the limits of our laws. But when it comes to getting to know the person sitting next to you in the library on a Wednesday afternoon – that is somehow “ballsy,” “uncomfortable” or “it’s gotta be a prank.” It was time to swim against the current.

EPISODE ONE: The coffee coat woman.

When I went to the toilet for a break I made eye contact with a girl in a banging coat. I stopped to think of a plan to woo her. I decided to buy two coffees, one for me and one mochaccino for her. I had no idea if she even liked coffee, let alone what type, but there’s nothing like trying something for a little bit of excitement in the day. I tried to draw a little heart on the coffee but I fucked up the curved parts and turned it into a smiley face with a big chin instead. I walked up to her.

“Hey, you ordered this coffee,”
I pretended to turn away.

She smiled. “Oh no, I didn’t.”

“Oh ... but your smile did.”

“Sorry, who?”

All the suaveness I had built up dropped in an instant.
“Your um ... um ... Yeah, you did haha.”

Her face turned tense.
“My mum? Sorry, I didn’t.”

This was lame cheesepie.
“Oh, okay.”

I walked to the other side of the library to try get rid of it.
“Hey you want this coffee? My friend couldn’t grab it off me so I need to get rid of it.”

“Sorry I’m some non-gluten something-something.”

“Oh, okay.”
More like a life-depraved cabbage.

“You should try the library staff.”

You know what’s shit? Now I have to go along with her suggestion otherwise it’s like, “Well, why me but not them?”
“Great idea ...”

I walked up to the friendliest looking person on the I.T. help desk.
“Hey, want to grab this coffee off me?
I haven’t had a sip.”

“No thanks, but try the rest of the team.”

Please fucking kill me.

“No, thanks.”

*shakes head*

“Try Gary.”

Why thank you, Professor Oak.

This carried on for another few minutes until I just dumped the coffee in a rubbish bin.

When someone you had an interest in shuts you down, meaningfully or not, it puts you into a hot pot of emotions. Even when you or your friends say to yourself “many more fish in the sea” or “they weren’t worth it,” your brain doesn’t just automatically think that way. Then, when you go to bed and end up thinking of the best “fuck you” comebacks (like “well actually, girl-who-doesn’t-want-my-coffee, this was for your mum, because judging by your face it looks like the only way you were fed food was through a slingshot”). But imagined comebacks don’t help, because while they might help you win the battle, you still end up losing the war – that person you’re attracted to still doesn’t like you. You tell yourself that “they just didn’t know the real me.” So you try finding them again and saying something else, but that only makes you look needy. It turns out the best remedy is the hardest thing, which is to do nothing at all.

EPISODE TWO: The woman who got up and left.

She sat down next to me. But I wanted a better look at her face. I begun to turn 90 degrees to check her out, but ended up spinning around the whole 360 degrees on my chair just in case she noticed. It was a manoeuvre to play it casual – like “no I wasn’t checking you out, just having a look around the block.” Unfortunately I could only take a quick glance, otherwise all the glances when I did my spin in every direction wouldn’t be even and therefore be suspicious, so I followed up with another two spins. Once you go beyond three spins, I imagine that the voice in her head goes from “looks like he can’t spot his mate” to “looks like he missed his daily merry-go-round trip in the insanity ward.”

Okay. So she was kind of cute. All right, now what to say? I made a list in my head with what to open conversation with. The key is to use the environment around you as a bridge to start the chat.

“I like your Hello Kitty pencil case.”

“These library computers take forever to log AYE??” [smile]

“I like what you’re wearing.”

“You type on the keyboard pretty fast, nice work.”

[Naturally bump her keyboard
with your mouse] “Sorry.”

[Drop down really fast on the chair] “Woops! These chairs drop you like you’re getting the shits!”

[Pull out lunch bag, begin eating] “Oh, want some?”

Nothing sounded right. She eventually got up and left before I had said anything. I needed to say something that you could say or do to strangers to start a conversation that is so universal anyone would recognise it, yet not so well known it’d be cheesy. When it’s a friend of a friend, there’s always a piece of information you can go by, like a sport, a location, a “how do you know so-and-so?” But when it’s a stranger there’s just nothing. And for a lot of people they don’t like that. But to me the challenge made it exhilarating. When you get to know a friend of a friend, you’re more or less expanding your network of people you know. But when you get to know a stranger who has no connection with you, you have to learn a whole different network, a whole different way of being human. Sometimes you’ll know someone who seems to have meet so many new people – because he grew up in this town, went to the local school, there is always someone they recognise. But in another way they’ve never really met anyone. Since his school buddies and family friends and locals have always been there, there’s never been a need to know anyone else outside of that bubble. But when you start a relationship with a person who has a totally different identity, you discover another way of “being” human – and isn’t that what being Kiwi is really about? Fulfilling the desire to discover the unfamiliar? Isn’t that how all of us ended up in Aotearoa? You’d think after discovering the world there would be a greater focus for people to then discover each other. In some ways, the best way to discover yourself is through someone else, because the more different someone is, the more it gives you the chance to reflect and expand your own identity.

A moment later, I figured out a unique way to break the ice.

EPISODE THREE: The woman who I started to get somewhere with (but not really).

She was busy typing away next to me. It looked like she was a hard-working person. But I was ready. I began my usual routine. First spin, second spin, third spin. I liked her scarf – she passed. I recovered from dizziness. Everything from there on was new territory. Remember not to overwhelm, look independent, I thought to myself. I logged in to the computer and looked as busy as possible for the first five minutes. I even developed a routine. Open two tabs. Right click something, copy, paste, hit keyboard letters a bit, hit backspace, stop, put hand on chin and look contemplative at the blank screen. Repeat. After five minutes I started my ultra secret move.

I pulled out a piece of paper, drew a diagram, put down an “X” and passed it along to her. For a second she didn’t understand, then she smiled, drew an “O” on it and passed it back. But instead of doing something straight away I pretended to work away for another five minutes to make her think “yeah, this guy casually chats with people all the time.” But, really, I was like a duck swimming in a pond – I looked calm on the surface, but what no one else could see was that my legs (well, my entire being) were panicking underneath the surface. I also began to let off those small but anxious farts (the ones that no matter how many you drop another one is ready to take its place).

Okay, okay – maybe I was playing it out to be a bigger deal than it was. I refocused myself and checked the paper. For a second it looked like the game was about to be over with neither of us getting a line. While it was a lot more exciting playing the game casually over time rather than giving it our full attention, I felt the tension was going to peak once it was over, and from then it’d get repetitive. But that’s when I noticed something had changed. Instead of her filling out the last possible spot she could have put her “O,” she had added extra horizontal and vertical lines, turning the game into a mega-sized naughts and crosses. I suddenly had an urge to match her creativity. Instead of drawing the usual “X,” I drew a number. She responded with a different letter in the place of her “O.” I begun responding quicker and quicker and suddenly we got carried away putting all sorts of images in the slots. We started to laugh at the absurd images we came up in response to each other. Then at one point it seemed she had to go. I wanted to say something. I was enjoying the moment so much, I began to panic because I didn’t want to let it end. I started thinking about how I could guarantee myself a way to experience it again. Her number? Her name? Would she like to grab some coffee? She stood up and turned to me. I just smiled. She smiled back. I never saw her again.

When you think back on a time with someone you liked that went really well, you can fall into the trap of fantasising about them as The One: The One that you’d set up the most amazing afternoon with to blow them away; The One that would laugh their heart out at all your shit jokes; The One that you can do nothing with but feel like you’re doing everything. You can fantasise about it so much you no longer even want to try make it work, because your little fantasy becomes so precious you’d rather keep drawing comfort from it through your dreams than risk it burn in reality. Those who tell you that there is that one “special person” or “soul mate” out there will only reinforce this inaction, and you’ll soon stop trying altogether because you think “the right one will come along.” But the truth is by doing so you couldn’t have a better way of ending up lonely. Soon everyone fails to meet your criteria. Instead, I think, you’ve got to put it in your own hands and go out and try meet people. So what if you fuck up? You only end up getting better.

EPISODE FOUR: The woman who was as good as oil.

I was in the back row when two girls sat down on the chairs to my right. They were talking in another language to each other. I thought I should wait until the next time it was just one person, but suddenly they stopped talking and got back to their own work. Battle-hardened after my previous experiences, I was gaining confidence. I passed the piece of paper to her and she understood the game. When it got to the end I began adding things in, like the creative girl had that one time. It confused her so I ended up explaining how it was about making up your own rules. But the conversation went on to different things. Her name, how she ended up in Dunedin, what she was studying, her interest in psychology. I asked for her number, she wrote it down.

I tried logging off my computer quickly, but since I had just logged in, it became the old-ass computer’s turn to become overwhelmed in that really bad way where it tells you nothing is responding, then the box dedicated to telling you that also becomes unresponsive. It was like I was the computer, hitting on me. I had to get out of here. Fuck it. I pretended to fiddle with the screen and be a techy by going through all those screen options all knowledgeably (although I don’t know what the fuck any of it means). I told her I had to go work, which actually meant “yeah, girl, you better qualify yourself in my schedule.” Actually I was just going home to replay “Holy Grail” on Spotify over and over again, while minimising and maximising the Facebook tab to check for notifications that I never receive (unless it’s a notification from Candy Crush or some random dude from Kenya adding me as a friend).

It was three days later that I got the text.

“Hey want to grab some coffee at
Good As Oil at 4:30?”

“Sure, see you then :)”

I kept it minimalist and sweet because like hell I’d tell her how I actually felt.
This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2014.
Posted 10:15pm Sunday 27th July 2014 by Max Callister-Baker.