The stories I tell to strangers

Posted by on March 22, 2012 at 6:47 am.

As I set out to romp the streets of Gainesville on St. Patrick’s Day, I replaced my usual red pen with a black sharpie. The idea was to put one ring around my arm for every green beer I drank.

I stole the idea from my friend Campbell, who used a similar method to keep track of drinks on her 21st birthday. In her original plan, she was going to put small lines on her arm. She made the mistake of putting me in charge of the marker and her small lines became full rings. Like Campbell, I eventually lost control of my experiment in documentation.

First, there was the cheating. Not all beer is created equal. And sometimes, the beer they serve green is disgusting. When that happened, I started ordering my usual drink, gin and tonic. That beverage is clear, but the garnish is a lime. So I put a circle around my arm. Then there was whiskey. Just as stereotypical to the holiday as green beer, so I drew a circle. And then I had some cider because I like it better than beer and added a circle just because I could.

Next, there was the marker. The best way to put a ring all the way around my arm was to get help from a friend. It wasn’t long before there were liberties being taken with my stripes and they were made crooked and squiggly. And then my friends added pictures onto my arms and onto each other, too. By the end of the night, I had 13 stripes, my initials, and a Wu-Tang Clan logo. I’m not even a Wu-Tang Clan fan.

My arm the morning after St. Patrick's Day.

After a while, people started asking me why I had stripes on my arm. To the first few people, I told the truth. But that got boring. Soon, I was making up a different story for every stranger that asked me. One for every heart I’ve broken today. One for every arm wrestling match I’ve won today. I’m practicing to live with a pride of tigers in the wild.

Whenever I make up stories to strangers like that, I never consider it lying. I’ve been known to stretch the truth to the person sitting next to me on an airplane or waiting in line with me at the DMV, but only in situations where I know I’ll never see that person again. And only a little bit. Telling a story about my cousin and calling her my sister or claiming to have spent more time in a city I’ve only driven through. I’ve never considered it lying. Instead, I think of it as storytelling.

Because I’m a journalist, so much of my life is devoted to factual information that isn’t exaggerated or made up. And whenever I deal with my family and friends, I treat it the same way. But there’s something about these strangers I encounter that gives me the opportunity and the desire to stretch just a little bit because it sounds better and helps us connect a little bit more. When it comes to single serving friends, maybe that is the truth.

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