Random people talk to me. Specifically, people I’ve never met come up to me at random and confess weird shit about themselves. Like the Man Who Died Five Times. I have a theory about this now: a theory that goes against pretty much everything I’ve believed up until this point in my life.
I first talked about this phenomenon during the introduction to The Pair With Life podcast’s Live Confession Session at Jam Cellars a few months back. I told the story of how I sat next to a gentleman at the bar at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and, after commenting on the sheer size of his lobster, he said, “Look, I gotta tell you about the handjob I got at the massage parlor.” He then told me how said digitally-talented masseuse is now his girlfriend, and that his grapefruit-sized prostate won’t allow for a wide variety of other fleshly pleasures. I chalked up this incident to Guy Talk At The Bar, which I suppose is the equivalent of Girl Talk At The Salon. After all, we confide even the gnarliest secrets to relative strangers: people who cut our hair, do our nails, or can ostensibly make you less of a dysfunctional creep for $200 an hour.
Or hey, maybe I just have a friendly face. The kind of face you want to talk about handjobs to. I really, really, really hope that’s not the case.
Then one day, as I sat in my oversized Walmart camping chair, covertly sipping a can of totally egregious Buttercream Chardonnay, watching my daughter’s swim meet, when an old man in a wheelchair sporting a Vietnam Vet baseball cap wheeled up beside me. I greeted him with a smile (though I swear to god, it was not a tell-me-about-your-handjob-smile and more of an aren’t-you-a-cool-grandpa-for-showing-up-at-the-swim-meet smile).
“I died five times,” he said.
I looked to my left to see if maybe I was sitting next to the Grim Reaper, and perhaps the old man was trying to strike up a conversation with him instead. No scythe and robes present, so I looked back at The Man Who Died Five Times and said, “No shit?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The last time was earlier this week. I gotta tell you, the first three times were all that ‘tunnels of light’ and happiness stuff you hear about. But the last two times? That was scary shit, man. Darkness. Really terrifying.”
“So, does your granddaughter swim freestyle or backstroke?”
Ok, I didn’t ask that, and in fact I didn’t actually change the subject at all. I let the guy talk for another ten minutes or so, told him it was great to meet him, and he left.
My conversation with The Man Who Died Five Times stuck with me. I mostly dismissed these encounters up until a year ago, when I could no longer deny that they were happening more frequently. And having long ago embraced reason, logic and the empirical method, I could think of no reason – could find no quantifiable evidence – that these encounters were anything more than random confessions from random people.
Except for one thing. One strange, common thread that ran through all these conversations:
“I gotta tell you…”
Every story started that way: I gotta tell you. The Man Who Died Five Times said it. So did Lobster Guy. At first, it sounds like a throwaway line, a qualifier that could start any outrageous story. But I couldn’t help but wonder: what if that phrase is meant to be taken literally? What if that is a statement of fact?
I have to tell you this, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.
Maybe these are stories that I am supposed to hear. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they’re narratives that need to be told to others? Maybe these stories have information that will help me frame the decisions I make in my own life? I’m not certain yet. Honestly, I still consider myself an empirical guy, but one thing has changed as I’ve grown older: I’ve learned to listen for my own cognitive dissonance, and when new information runs headlong into my beliefs, perhaps its the beliefs that need to change and not the information.
I gotta tell you. An open mind and a leap of faith are powerful things.
Being The Person That Everyone Wants To Confide Their Weird-Ass Stories To Pairs With: The 2014 Joel Aiken Sonoma Pinot Noir. Joel has a great story, and it doesn’t even have something to do with dying. A smart and experienced winemaker and a guy with a dry, intelligent wit, Joel’s wine biz experience is unparalleled. Joel designed and oversaw construction of a state of the art facility for the production of Beaulieu’s Georges DeLatour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Joel has worked closely with Michel Rolland to evolve the style of the Georges DeLatour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
His pinot is absolutely exquisite – One of the purist expressions of Sonoma fruit I’ve ever tasted. Subtle, understated and sublime, it’s a refreshing change from the overblown, syrah-laced pinots that seem to be the rage. Get some, drink some, and let your story be heard.