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Negrophobia, Hoochie Mama – The Other White Meat and Razor Wire Pubic Hair: Books as Stranger Repellent

April 7, 2010

Harry had already read Fear of Flying so he brought Sally instead.

One of the things I have often found problematic about the way in which extroversion and introversion are often framed is how reductive it is – either you’re a used car salesperson in a polyester plaid Botany 500 blazer or mousy wallflower who finds even the approximation of conversation agonizing. Even when folks interpret their Myers-Briggs results – for the record I am an E/I NFP – there still seems a disconnect between the questions they answered and the way they understand the sum of those answers.

I tend to frame extro/intro as the means by which a person gets their juju – either from external factors or internal factors – rather than the sole driving force of their personality. Ever seen a lone person at a bar? Now, do you ever actually LOOK at them or do you just assume they must be a miserable lonely person? What about when someone goes to a restaurant alone? Think they’re “shy”? or ill-equipped to locate a suitable dinner companion?

I am an introvert. This is shocking news, both to myself and folks who know me, since I could hardly be described as “shy”. Yet, I really hate people. Not individuals, but collections of people working in concert to like get on my nerves. I also have little use for the Ark Syndrome the inability of grown folks to do things like go to the restroom, movies or anywhere else without someone else. Prefer to is fine, but HAVE to is like inconceivable to me. Like what do you do if turns out nobody wants to see Rocky X with you?

Anyway, as a person who does not find social activities especially engaging and who is forever trying to protect her precious SAUs (social attention units), I am constantly employing strategies to ensure this adorable and accessible looking face doesn’t start interactions this adorable and inaccessible mind isn’t interested in having. If this is not your experience, I’m happy for you, but I don’t really need to hear how “lucky” I must be because folks want to talk to me. I don’t feel lucky and when I don’t moderate my time I feel exhausted when it’s over and mad that I didn’t fake labor to get away from them.

One of them is constantly being on a cellphone when I’m out in public. Seriously, I will not leave my house without my phone and will always call someone and talk to them. People always try to talk to me in public places, asking for suggestions or making nice nice. Now, when I’m in the south, all this goes out the window cause it’s real bad manners (<3 to Ms Jacks) not to offer your opinion on the heat when asked by a southerner. Besides, they know how to shut the hell up when the conversation is over. And oddly enough they don't ask if they like don't want your opinion. However in the cold North East, folks can live next to you for 200 years and never talk to you. Yet, once they decide you're fit for small talk, they will NOT leave you the hell alone. Playa, any interaction is like a scene from Airplane where various folks are trying to kill themselves to escape Ted Stryker’s incessant blathering.

Since I’ve lived in NE for nearly 7 years I’ve finally become a “new person” rather than a stranger to folks about town and NOW they want to chat me up and interrupt my Archie Comic and Big Steak Omelette time!

The other strategy I employ is carrying around books. I read them in line and just about any place where there are a collection of strangers waiting for something to happen.

Here is Snarky’s Machine’s Trust me I’ve done the legwork approved list of books that guarantee your personal space bubble will not be breached.* Please note, inclusion on this list means I have read the books and 99% of the time thoroughly found them enjoyable reads. I’ll let YOU decide which one of these things is not like the other.

Airports and such
This would probably strike most as counterintuitive, but AIRPORT LIT is the best choice to avoid AIRPORT bubble breachers. I’m talking pulling out the big guns: Crichton, Grisham, Balducci, Grafton and Cook. People romanticize air travel to the point they believe anyone flying anywhere must be super interesting. Well you’ll show them with your shiny copy of A Time to Kill This Close Talking Mutherfucker or F is for FUCK OFF BUBBLE BREACHER** The key here is the copy MUST BE BRAND SPINE CRACKING new, preferably purchased from the gift shop. Extra points for using the receipt as a bookmark. Additional note: do not pick an obscure title. That means no Disclosure or The Chamber. People forget that Crichton and Grisham (respectively) wrote those. As an aside, both are highly enjoyable reads! Oh yeah, stay away from medically vectored Crichton books lest you find yourself stuck next to a Johnny come know it all like me who will whip out Dr. Mike’s medical school transcripts and tell you more than you ever wanted to know about his switch from medicine to writing and how like he was totally fascinating and 6’10.

Waiting Rooms – Medical
DO NOT under any circumstances read the provided materials in any waiting room. Besides the fact there is a paucity of anything worth reading if you’re not say a parent, gun enthusiast or a card carrying member of AARP, they provide no immunity from bubble breachers whose first comment will involve noting the vintage of the magazines followed by some shop worn two drink minimum punch line even Seinfeld wouldn’t touch. And hell, if you ARE a parent, gun enthusiast or a card carrying member of AARP you done already read those magazines and could write way better articles. What you’ll want are books with provocative titles that cast medical professionals or the profession in general in a rather unflattering light. Every Dentist might not have read Marathon Man but they all know what is meant by the phrase “Marathon Man Dentistry”. Don’t bother asking. It ain’t safe***. POCs and other marginalized folks, y’all wanna make sure your stable of “fucked up medical shit the man done did to us” lit is well stocked.

Waiting Rooms – Other
Again, stay away from the periodicals or brochures, which leave you vulnerable for a good breaching. Here you have a diverse range of suitable titles to serve your purpose. I lean towards books overtly sexual in nature, though best selling “female” focused self help and astrology titles are useful as well. Car Dealerships are good places to bring out the feminist non fiction or if that’s not your thang, you gotta rage Fear of Flying. There is something about a book exploring a woman’s sexual awakening that will make people scoot away and redirect their attention to The Price is Right, though honestly I haven’t figured out why.

Coffeehouses, Bookstores and other “enlightened” spaces
Since people tend frequent such establishments often with the singular intent of meeting strangers, you’re gonna have to put aside your feelings of discomfort – regardless of gender – and gather up some of the cheesiest of YA fiction you can find. Nothing thwarts this strain of breacher like the idea that you just might not be very well read. And since they will most likely think themselves smarter than the average bear, you’ll get extra amounts of delight in knowing they’re wrong while enjoying all kinds of cheeky 70s YA fun. Avoid Fabio emblazoned covers. Hipsters might view it as “ironic” and pull up a chair.

Restaurants
At this point, you gotta just go with “offensive” titles. And for corn’s sake DO NOT ask for the paper. By the time you’ve decided to dine out, much of the staff will have picked over it and if they spot you reading something they’ve read they’ll want to discuss it with you. No newspapers, magazines or comic books.

___________________________________
* offer void where prohibited. some restrictions may apply.
** actual titles may vary. check local outlets for similar products available in your area.
*** disturbing clip from Marathon Man. no one under 17 admitted without parental consent.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 7:37 am

    This piece is delectable… from the fatuous candy coating to the juicy cream-filled center. And the “great books” tag made me giggle. Who knew “Cathy” was so respectable!

  2. badhedgehog permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:44 am

    You are so right about new airport books, and about not reading the periodicals in the doctor’s waiting room. A brand new book means you really WANT and NEED to read right now, so much so that you bought a new book. Reading the periodicals says you don’t really want to read, you’re just killing time waiting for a better offer.

    And of course the coffeehouses!

    I’m also the sort of on-the-cusp introvert who is very chatty to people she WANTS to chat to. I had that stranger to new person thing happen to me two or three years ago – I’ve been living here for 11 years now. Added to that, I think there was maybe something of a nice thirtysomething lady being more approachable than a twentysomething lady, I don’t know. Sometimes I’ll talk to people, sure, but I prefer it when a smalltalk conversation is SHORT, which is something that British culture largely gets right.

  3. April 7, 2010 9:37 am

    In-freaking-valuable. I had never considered that airport books could be used for something.

    A while ago, for a stupid work thing that I do not even want to get into because it is the stupidest, I ended up having to spend a day soliciting for donations at a bigwig golf event. I don’t know who got the bright fucking idea that the kind of white assholes who go to big golf events are big-hearted enough to give money to orphans, especially when my competition was the next-door booth, which had zero-gravity gloves (GLOVES?!!) being sold by girls in bikinis wearing trophy-hats. GOD IT WAS THE STUPIDEST

    Anyway, I spent a long time trying to decide what kind of book to bring to make sure NOBODY CAME TO MY BOOTH, and I had all sorts of grand ideas. Essays by Malcolm X? The People’s History? A compendium of womanist essays? Essays on Black Panthers? The local women’s press? Eventually, I decided all those things were just as likely to provoke conversation from asshats who thought they were liberal.

    So I pulled out the big guns. Unfeminist confession: I really didn’t like the book Cunt. Just didn’t care for it. But I still keep a copy just for the stupidest golf courses of the world. I just sat smugly at my BOOTH FOR ORPHANS, MONEY PLEAZE, reading Cunt very visibly. The bonus prize of Cunt is that everybody is too terrified of the word to even verbalize their offense, especially when it’s obviously being used in a feminist “oh my god if I say I’m offended does that make me sexist” kind of way. I did get a few asshats who said something like, “Well, that looks like an interesting book,” and I’d say, “Oh, Cunt? It is an interesting book, but it’s such an interesting topic.” Pause. “Cunts, I mean, and the feminist implications.” So many complaints my boss received that day, but he could not bring himself to discuss them with me, knowing me well enough to know it would be a discussion where I’d say “cunt” at least twenty times, and then demand to know why he’s uncomfortable with women.

    Anyway, I never got asked to do an extracurricular work thing again.

  4. araymondjohnson permalink
    April 7, 2010 10:04 am

    I’m bookmarking this mtherfcker to look at everytime before going out for reference! I too am an approachable and social introvert and I can’t be throwing around SAUs like deal-a-meal cards in a wallet, those things are PRECIOUS.

  5. April 7, 2010 11:19 am

    Can I get a witness?

    On the MAX, I wear a wooly cap, big-ass headphones, sunglasses and I either shove my nose in a book or draw like a motherfucker. Unfortunately, when I draw, people think this is an invitation to have a fucking on-train critique. “How do you come up with your ideas?” “Wow, that’s like, fuckin’ sick maaaaannnnn.” “That’s cool that you do that.” “Why do you draw on regular books?” “Did you go to school?”

    AAAAAAAGGGGHHHH! LEAVE ME ALONE, THIS IS MY ALONE TIME. THIS IS MY DANCE SPACE, THIS IS YOUR DANCE SPACE.

    One dude even said, “I don’t mean to invade your personal space but…” Well, yes you did a-hole, because you just interupted me, and you don’t appear to be bleeding or on fire.

    The books that I have gotten the most harassed with in public:
    Anything by Sherman Alexie
    The Bros Karamazov (No, I do not want to discuss Dostoyevsky with you thank you very much.)

    Left alone:
    The Flounder by Gunter Grass
    I guess folks don’t want to discuss gender politics and people having sex with talking wolves and deer and shit.

    Like Raymond, I am gonna bookmark this and refer to it next time I’m at Powells to get a new book for the train ride.

    More on introverts later…

  6. hsofia permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:34 am

    “I am constantly employing strategies to ensure this adorable and accessible looking face doesn’t start interactions this adorable and inaccessible mind isn’t interested in having.”

    ROFL. I am an INFP, too, pretty close to E. I found I got chatted up a lot more on the East Coast than here in the NW where the culture is generally one of diffidence. Some days I’m in the mood for friendly conversation with strangers waiting in line; other days I really do not have the SAUs, as you put it.

  7. April 7, 2010 3:17 pm

    V. C. Andrews is probably a safe airport lit choice as well, unless you bump into a fan. You know what scratch that, the fans are rabid and they lurk everywhere waiting to jump out and discuss the books. I like to lug Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite with me when I’m feeling really asocial, one terse explanation of the plot and nobody will want to talk to you. Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class edited by Michelle Tea is good for other types of waiting rooms, with the added benefit of being able to recommend the book as a better alternative to Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum is also a good choice, I promise it’s so engrossing that even if someone tries to talk to you, you won’t notice.

    Unfortunately, I have to be making something with my hands whenever I’m waiting, so I get to have the same fun conversation about knitting with every single person. “What are you making? How did you learn to do that? Is that hard? Are you pregnant?” Baby sweater, taught myself, not anymore, and no, I just like knitting baby things cause they’re done quickly. Talking to people wears me the hell out.

  8. mcm permalink
    April 7, 2010 4:17 pm

    Love your choices! Must check some of those out.

    I read outside my office during lunch and my smoke breaks mainly because I do not want to make small talk with the other random office drones. Without fail, at least once a week, someone asks me, “So, what are you reading?” or worse “Wow, you read a lot, don’t you”.

    The thing is…they really don’t care what I am reading, they are just pissed that I don’t accept the responsibility of keeping them amused with “chow chow” while they take their break.

  9. April 7, 2010 5:00 pm

    This piece is delectable… from the fatuous candy coating to the juicy cream-filled center. And the “great books” tag made me giggle. Who knew “Cathy” was so respectable!

    Thank you! I really tried to strike a balance between imparting useful information but with a refreshing humorous aftertaste. Who knew so many people would want info on this topic!

    @badhedgehog

    I’m also the sort of on-the-cusp introvert who is very chatty to people she WANTS to chat to. I had that stranger to new person thing happen to me two or three years ago – I’ve been living here for 11 years now. Added to that, I think there was maybe something of a nice thirtysomething lady being more approachable than a twentysomething lady, I don’t know. Sometimes I’ll talk to people, sure, but I prefer it when a smalltalk conversation is SHORT, which is something that British culture largely gets right.

    I am very similar. I find the assumption that introversion = shy, thus must be DRAWN out really problematic. It never really occurs to folks that maybe people just don’t feel like having their SAUs drained by emotional vampires. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. April 7, 2010 5:17 pm

    @harriet j

    So I pulled out the big guns. Unfeminist confession: I really didn’t like the book Cunt. Just didn’t care for it. But I still keep a copy just for the stupidest golf courses of the world. I just sat smugly at my BOOTH FOR ORPHANS, MONEY PLEAZE, reading Cunt very visibly

    I have lots of problems with the book, the main being the way it which it seeks to frame the vagina as the sole determinant of womanhood in a way that is really problematic for folks who do not frame their genitals in such a reductive manner. Also, well the writing isn’t that great either. Very dry and inaccessible, another reason to shun it, though by no means the most important.

    I definitely had you on my mind while crafting this. We seem to be fellow travelers in this neverending quest to get strangers to leave us the hell alone.

    @raybear

    I’m bookmarking this mtherfcker to look at everytime before going out for reference! I too am an approachable and social introvert and I can’t be throwing around SAUs like deal-a-meal cards in a wallet, those things are PRECIOUS.

    Ha. Seriously. They are totally like those DEAL-A-MEAL cards. You always have the perfect metaphor. I love you for getting me. It’s still so fresh between us even after all these years.

    @p0plife

    On the MAX, I wear a wooly cap, big-ass headphones, sunglasses and I either shove my nose in a book or draw like a motherfucker. Unfortunately, when I draw, people think this is an invitation to have a fucking on-train critique. “How do you come up with your ideas?” “Wow, that’s like, fuckin’ sick maaaaannnnn.” “That’s cool that you do that.” “Why do you draw on regular books?” “Did you go to school?”

    I don’t even know how to begin to address what artists can do since talent in that regard is rather rare – particular yours and again you’ve got a ridiculous cute face so I’m thinking a Nixon mask might be your only solution. And also like me people seem to drain the FUCK out of you just by breathing so we’ve got to fashion some kind of lightly tazing weapon, which would merely disorient folks long enough for us to make our getaway.

    @hsofia

    ROFL. I am an INFP, too, pretty close to E. I found I got chatted up a lot more on the East Coast than here in the NW where the culture is generally one of diffidence. Some days I’m in the mood for friendly conversation with strangers waiting in line; other days I really do not have the SAUs, as you put it.

    Yeah, what’s hard about New England is they have a lot of ideas about what ought to be the rules of public engagement, but without the delicious carrots of sweet tea and cornbread. How are you gonna try to ambush me into a conversation when you don’t have a refreshing beverage to offer me? I’ll take a hot bag of “no thanks” on that.

    @godless

    V. C. Andrews is probably a safe airport lit choice as well, unless you bump into a fan. You know what scratch that, the fans are rabid and they lurk everywhere waiting to jump out and discuss the books. I like to lug Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite with me when I’m feeling really asocial, one terse explanation of the plot and nobody will want to talk to you.

    V.C. nearly made the list but when I tested her at Barnes & Noble cafe someone started trying to chat me about the series and how V.C. Andrews was the “Tupac” of the writing world as though that was a yuk yuk I hadn’t heard about 405596 times before. Still, I think in a laundromat it would work well, particularly if you dared to mix your lights with darks.

    @mcm

    I read outside my office during lunch and my smoke breaks mainly because I do not want to make small talk with the other random office drones. Without fail, at least once a week, someone asks me, “So, what are you reading?” or worse “Wow, you read a lot, don’t you”.

    I think there will need to be another installment because work is tricky and there are all sort of politics which don’t lend themselves easily to storming the break room with a copy of Kill Whitey: The Politics of Imaginary Books Which Scare Away Coworkers in hopes of getting a few moments in front of the microwave.

    Thanks everyone for the banging comments! 🙂

  11. hsofia permalink
    April 7, 2010 6:23 pm

    how V.C. Andrews was the “Tupac” of the writing world
    What does that even MEAN?!

    Without fail, at least once a week, someone asks me, “So, what are you reading?” or worse “Wow, you read a lot, don’t you”.
    Reminds me of Bill Hick’s comment about being asked by the Waffle House server, “What you reading for?”

  12. April 7, 2010 8:09 pm

    @hsofia, I think it means Andrews writes books from the grave.

  13. hsofia permalink
    April 7, 2010 9:49 pm

    @snarkysmachine – Wow; that’s annoying.

  14. April 7, 2010 10:19 pm

    @hsofia – I know. I guess they wanted to make their yuk yuk Y2K by using “Tupac” rather than “Elvis”, both of which seem to be more prolific in death than they were in life.

  15. charnoir permalink
    April 7, 2010 10:51 pm

    This was great fun to read.

    I live in the Bay Area so strangers often have an opinion about what one is reading. I’ve found that the multiple degree toting leftist brigade want to talk to me about anything remotely racial in nature. (People over 40 tend to particularly vocal in this area) I second the comment about Sherman Alexie being one of the authors that will lead to a launch of space invaders.

    I was reading his latest book on BART two weeks ago and the woman across from me immediately launched into how she “hadn’t seen that one yet, and he’s such a wonderful writer…” practically before her ass had made contact with the seat. I just held the book up for her to read the title for herself so that she could make a note of it and leave me the hell alone.

    I find that when I read Agatha Christie in public people are confused, but they don’t engage me in conversation.

  16. April 8, 2010 12:19 am

    I live in the Bay Area so strangers often have an opinion about what one is reading. I’ve found that the multiple degree toting leftist brigade want to talk to me about anything remotely racial in nature. (People over 40 tend to particularly vocal in this area) I second the comment about Sherman Alexie being one of the authors that will lead to a launch of space invaders.

    I’m so glad y’all brought up Alexie. I was hoping folks would step up with their stories of why he – while being a great read – is often a poor choice to avoid space invaders (I likes that!).

    Thanks for you comment and hope to see you around more 🙂

  17. gfgrad permalink
    April 8, 2010 9:48 am

    Snarky’s Machine:I am very similar. I find the assumption that introversion = shy, thus must be DRAWN out really problematic. It never really occurs to folks that maybe people just don’t feel like having their SAUs drained by emotional vampires.

    Yes, exactly! I’m an INF/TJ (no borderline extrovert here, I think I scored over 90% introverted). I’m not shy. I think I’m too stubborn and care too little about being “normal” to be shy. Most of the time, if I’m quiet, it means that I’ve evaluated the situation and decided it’s not worth my time or effort to open my mouth and leave myself vulnerable to attack. It amazes me how many people are shocked to find out that I have a personality- and how many of them tell me in no uncertain terms how shocked they are about it (rude, much?) and then go on to tell everyone else that “OMG, she speaks! And sometimes she says funny things!” Like they’re the first people ever to discover this fact. Um…yeah, thanks. No. I have a very rich inner monologue and healthy curiosity about the world. However, I also choose to cultivate and strongly control my brain-to-mouth filter. It’d be nice if more people would do the same.

    You know, I’m not terribly fond of people in general. It’s nice to know that I have company. Sometimes when I admit that I feel like I’m admitting to kicking puppies for fun or something.

  18. April 8, 2010 1:21 pm

    It amazes me how many people are shocked to find out that I have a personality- and how many of them tell me in no uncertain terms how shocked they are about it (rude, much?) and then go on to tell everyone else that “OMG, she speaks! And sometimes she says funny things!” Like they’re the first people ever to discover this fact. Um…yeah, thanks

    Omg, I have two friends exactly like this. Friends people are like, “Wait she talk to you??” And I’m all, “Of course she talks to me. She likes me.” One is really funny because it’s totally like that WB singing frog. I swear nobody hears her talk but me.

  19. April 8, 2010 2:15 pm

    I credit Cunt with some part of my evolution as a proper feminist. Before I read Cunt, I had the very young, very uninformed idea that there was this one monolithic TV version of feminism that I was only very tentatively aligned with, in name more than principle. While reading it, I would constantly get irritated and disgusted and think, “That’s NOT feminism,” but rather than give up there, I forced myself to think, “Okay, so what IS feminism? If I don’t agree with this, what do I agree with. Is that feminist, too?” I walked away from that book with a much more solid idea of what I believed and why, but only because I hated it SO MUCH. And yes, the writing, thank you for saying that, because I also thought it was a B- of an effort, and let’s just avoid the grading curve for execution.

    Weirdly enough, Cunt has worked its way into my family dysfunctional cycle. Every couple of years, my estranged sister and I will try to be friends again, and we are very bad at this. She LOVES that book and keeps giving it to me as a gift, like some families might give diet products to the designated fatty every Christmas. If our relationship doesn’t end right there, as I say something like, “Thanks for the gift. I still don’t like this book, but I can trade it for a book I do like,” we will get into a fight a month later. She will quote it in casual conversation, and I will say, “Yes, I disagree with that quote,” and she will say, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me,” and I will say, “Are we talking about the book? I thought we were talking about the book. I don’t like that book,” and she will say, “That’s because you never want to open your mind, you only think you’re a feminist but you don’t know anything about feminism,” and I will try not to laugh because she does not know about my secret life ON THE INTERNET, but I will instead say, “I don’t want to hear value judgments about myself, I don’t do that to you,” and she will get down to brass tacks and say, “YOU NEVER CALL GRANDMA AND YOU THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME,” and then we are estranged again.

    Inga Muscio is the gift that keeps on giving.

  20. April 8, 2010 2:38 pm

    She will quote it in casual conversation, and I will say, “Yes, I disagree with that quote,” and she will say, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me,” and I will say, “Are we talking about the book? I thought we were talking about the book. I don’t like that book,” and she will say, “That’s because you never want to open your mind, you only think you’re a feminist but you don’t know anything about feminism,”

    Oh angelface, you can paint a picture of pathos and awakening like nobody else.

    Inga Muscio is the gift that keeps on giving.

    This cracked me up.

  21. infamousqbert permalink
    April 14, 2010 2:01 pm

    i too can be a loud, annoying, unshy person, but i’m most definitely an introvert. like, whoa am i an introvert. your definition is pretty spot on. it’s not about shy, but about how you get your energy. when you’re feeling down and need to re-charge, do you want to curl up in your hole, or do you seek out friends for drinks? sure, we all do both sometimes, but what’s your primary reaction to stress and whatnot?

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