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The art of acquaintances takes practice and skill

By H.G. Miller

H.G. MillerAs the years pass by, we inevitably lose track of names and faces that were once part of our daily high-school agendas. Of course, this being the small world that it is, 25,000 students aren´t nearly enough to keep me from running into a few old acquaintances while roaming campus.

Usually, this requires not only acknowledging that such people are recognized, but also stopping to have a conversation, which requires remembering something about them, oftentimes, their name.

Unfortunately, having my name and face posted in the paper once a week gives these blurred visions from the past an unfair advantage — they can easily identify me on the walkways of campus, while I must search hopelessly for some nugget of information about them in the trash receptacles of my brain.

Not to say that these people aren´t important, I just never expected to see them again. Ever.

“Oh, hi,” I´ll say with the jolliest smile I can muster.

Usually, the first thing to strike me about these long-lost pals is the weight they´ve gained or the hair they´ve lost. However, my strong sense of tact forces me to avoid voicing these observations. Rather, I´ll do my best to navigate the inevitable topics of conversations.

The interested party will always want to “catch up” on the many happenings in my life. Sadly, I´ve accomplished very little in the last four years, and personal records for alcohol consumption and abstinence aren´t exactly things to brag about.

“Oh, you know, work and school,” I´ll respond with that knowing grin of mine.

Never mind the fact that this person and I spoke maybe 10 words to each other throughout all of high school, our hometown connection now binds us like brothers amongst the sea of strangers milling about.

As a veteran of these chance encounters, though, I´ve learned a few tactics. Soon, I spring into the plan.

“So, are you still with that one guy?”

“Oh, my God,” she´ll respond with some sort of hand gesture, dependent upon the magnitude of the break up, “Did you not hear what he did to me?”

While I could care less about what he did, at least the focus has been shifted from my meager existence to some story that will require no thought on my part to process. From here, I only can hope the whistle will give me a reason to run off to class.

Of course, these encounters should be meaningless and easy to handle. My problem is my mentality. You see, I hate unanswered questions.

“What´s up?” is a killer to me because I can´t just do the nod. I´ve got to say something, which is usually “nothing,” which is a lie, which my mother trained me not to do, and you can only imagine the emotional ramifications of breaking such a sacred trust.

My friends have asked me to seek help, but I just can´t afford it right now.

“How are you?” also seems to be a popular question. Go ahead and try to answer that one honestly.

“Oh, me? Well, I´m single, I hate my job and can barely afford to pay the rent. My only real aspiration in life is to find some meaningful means of existence because I´m sure not getting it from school. How are you?”

Now, I don´t really say that. Instead, I usually answer “fine,” and look for the nearest building to duck into, saying something like “Yeah, all the English courses are in Smith Hall.”

Maybe I´d feel better if everyone wasn´t so flippin´ happy. It´s a bit difficult when some girl who turned you down for a date in high school comes bounding up with an engagement ring shining brighter than the light beacon that is the Lied Center sign. Not that I´m still bitter about it or anything.

I suppose these chance encounters are all just a small part of what makes college such a wonderful experience. I don´t know, though. Sometimes, I´d just rather not have to repeat the same empty lines every time some vaguely familiar face stops me on the sidewalk. Or, at least they could pretend to forget my name, so I don´t have to feel like such a schmuck.

H.G. Miller is a Hutchinson senior in English.



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