Wayfaring Stranger

I felt silly last week while going through a mild panic about hail hitting my new car. There was no actual damage, and in the larger scheme of things, what’s the difference?  I’m planning to keep the car for at least ten years and suck all the value out of it anyway. When it comes time to sell, there will be many more concerns than a few little dimples on the hood.  And really, aren’t there much better things to be alarmed about?  Just about then, I ran across a NASA Press Release with this title:

Giant Black Hole Kicked Out of Home Galaxy

WASHINGTON — Astronomers have found strong evidence that a massive black hole is being ejected from its host galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour. New observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory suggest that the black hole collided and merged with another black hole and received a powerful recoil kick from gravitational wave radiation.

“It’s hard to believe that a supermassive black hole weighing millions of times the mass of the sun could be moved at all, let alone kicked out of a galaxy at enormous speed,” said Francesca Civano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who led the new study. “But these new data support the idea that gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space first predicted by Albert Einstein but never detected directly — can exert an extremely powerful force.”

The press release goes on to say that while this is probably a rare occurrence … “it nevertheless could mean that there are many giant black holes roaming undetected out in the vast spaces between galaxies.”  And because they have consumed all the gasses surrounding them, “… these black holes would be invisible to us.”

Thank you NASA!  This is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for – a new reason to worry about armageddon arriving in a way I have not yet imagined.  Black holes absorb everything in their vicinity – even light doesn’t escape.   I had become relaxed about the ever-present potential for the sudden, random strike of a massive, undetected asteroid, exploding like a thousand nuclear bombs over my back yard.  The odds haven’t changed on that one, but now that I’ve had a few years to factor it into my nightmares, I’m accustomed to that particular level of dread.

I’m Not From Around Here

A black hole wandering into our galaxy would crush my car and me and all my stuff into something smaller than a hailstone, so let’s get our priorities straight!   This exciting new bit of dark information opens up a higher level of paranoia because it combines an existing, somewhat abstract fear of outer space with an old horror film classic – the mad, wandering loner.

The notion that there are orphaned Black Holes roaming the cosmic countryside with nothing to lose means I can marry my trepidation about galactic surprises to my conviction that all strangers are potentially insane and probably homicidal.

It’s not so farfetched. If you had just been ejected by gravitational slingshot from the center of your home galaxy, wouldn’t you nurse a grudge against pretty much everything, but especially against tiny planets where some clueless people place too much importance on a flawless paint job?

Tell us about a surprising encounter with a stranger. 

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55 thoughts on “Wayfaring Stranger”

  1. i was traveling around the country actually it was in canada in the old vw bus and it was december. i was camping in the van in beautiful camp sites in the banff national park. it was basically a parking lot in the camping area but they had wonderful buildings with woodstoves inside them for community picnicing during hte summer months. for the winter we had it to ourselves with an occasional cross country ski group coming in to say hello. a couple of hardy souls came by and told us about a site on the other side of the mountain that could be reached by hiking in and i decided to give it a try. the partner who was with me was a pliable fellow who would follow many suggestions. a good traveling choice. we decided to go into town and have dinner before we trekked off to the wilderness to a week in the great white north. i was concerned about my guitar being ok in the cold for a week so i asked the waiter if there was a locker in the bus station where i could stash the guitar and keep it in fairly moderate temperatures. he said there wasn’t but if i wanted to leave it with him he would take care of it. i took him up on it and when he offered to write me up an invoice t show he had taken it i said it wouldnt do me any good if i had the receipt and he intended to steal it but the fact that he offered let me know i had nothing to worry about. he and i became fast friends then and there. and off we went to the campsite. when we returned h the waiter offered us the spare bedroom in the restaurant workers house the ownership furnished as a benefit for working at the pizza joint. we took him up on it and ended up living with the most delightful little group of people i have spent time with. there was husband and wife who were neil diamond fans and played good music all the time and the woman who was the house mother was a delightful woman who just wanted to sit and listen to guitar music and talk about life. the host was a ski bum who was quite a philosopher and a joy to talk with. we met their friends the convicted counterfeiter who learned his lesson but was hiding out in canada and an array of interesting folk. we could have stayed in that community forever but the ski bum warned me that he had seen people like me get sucked into the scene at banff and never get out. its too cool here and there is no reason to leave. if you are serious about getting out of here you had better go. i believed him and left but it was a very cool two or three weeks in a cool place at a cool time of my life. and dale which direction should i be looking for the black holes to suck me up? i am now going to carry that around in the back of my mind.

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      1. yep. he said he couldnt believe i left such a beautiful guitar with a guy i didnt know. he asked if he could play it. he had it for a week and was afraid to touch it.

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        1. I couldn’t believe it many years ago when Donal Lunny left his guitar and bouzouki in the back seat of my car after I had dropped him and Andy M. Stewart off at The Dubliner in St. Paul following a gig at the Cedar. He’d never met me before, and those instruments were his livelihood. He must have figured that a lover of Celtic music was a safe person to leave them with. I was too nervous to leave them there and brought them into my house for the night.

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        2. Oooh, PJ…I think I need your autograph (or a lock of your lovely hair). You transported Mr. Lunny and Mr. Stewart???? Soooo jealous.

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    1. Those were the days, tim! How long did you travel in your van? How old were you at the time? I wonder if that kind of rambling is still feasible today. After I got divorced in 1973 I traveled vicariously through such books as Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie,” and William Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways.” Wish I had had the courage and resources to just light out for the territory.

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    1. One of my biggest disappointments in teaching was not getting to have the student in my class who looked like Woody Allen. He didn’t have glasses but still looked more like him than the youngster in this clip does, by a LONG shot. Once at recess I was trying to tell him who he looked like and he kept saying, “who? huh? who?” Finally I said, “here, just put on my glasses for a second.” He obliged – and THAT, my friends, was one fulfilling moment!

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  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Seven or eight years ago after I started my business I met a stranger right on my office doorstep. At that time all we had was 2 therapists and a tiny waiting room. I was in the middle of a session when someone knocked on my door (in my world this is strictly verboten unless there is an emergency). I was surprized, but I answered the door. There stood a portly, bald gentlmen in a wife-beater t-shirt, smiling broadly enough to reveal 2 missing top teeth. He was holding 1/2 a grapefruit in one hand and a curved, scary looking knife in the other. When I saw the knife I thought, “This is it. I am about to be murdered.”

    In my frozen state I hear him break the ice saying, “Hi. I’m from San Diego and I’m selling a load of grapefruit. Would you like some?”

    Soon after that, and 2 more incidents of unwanted strangers scoping our office to steal electronics, we installed a keypad on the door. Phew.

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    1. Jacque, if his grapefruit knife looked anything like mine, that would have been a slow death had he tried to kill you with it. Sounds like the same guy who was selling flank steak door to door in my neighborhood once. He was in cahoots with one of my housemates, and together they had apparently hi-jacked a semi full of flank steak, and were trying to get rid of them before they thawed.

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  3. Good morning. I have been known to strike up conversations with people I don’t know, but I can’t pull up a memory of one of these encounters this early in the day. I do remember two surprising encounters with hitch hikers. I have stopped picking up hitch hikers due to the last strange experience I had with one.

    I saw a guy along the road that look like he was very much in need of a ride and picked him up. This guy turned out to be in very bad shape. He had a demented look on his face and seemed disoriented. I was very glad when I found out he only wanted a short ride. That cured me of picking up hitch hikers.

    The other strange encounter with a hitch hiker came many years ago when I picked up a guy at night on a road that didn’t have much traffic. I thought I might be this guy’s last chance for a ride that night and should pick him up to keep him from being stranded. I was surprised when he asked me if he could camp in my back yard for the night. I wasn’t in favor of this and I don’t where he set up camp after I let him out. He wasn’t camped out in my yard when I got up the next day.

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    1. careful jim your gonna get killed. i used to think back in my hitch hiking days i would always stop for hitchhikers when i saw them. today they are generaly pretty scary looking and have that far away look as if they had just been bumped form another galaxie into the roadside ditch and now they are looking for a ride back to the hacienda. i usually have so much crap in my car i dont have room but even when i do i think twice about it. careful jim

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      1. As i said, I have decided not to give any more hitch hikers rides. I could break this rule if I see a person who looks okay and really seems to need a ride. That might be a bad idea, but I think there are times when you should trust your judgement and lend a helping hand.

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        1. that may be true but i think somtimes i would trust your judgement more than my own. i keep wanting to believe the best and get reminded what the consequences for that are.

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      2. When I was in high school the debate coach lent us his Fiat to go pick up lunch. There were 3 of us in the 2 seater. We passed a young hitchhiker we really wanted to help out but since we had no room we kept going and never learned his story. He was hitchhiking with a big glass aquarium.

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  4. My most memorable day on the Superior Hiking Trail was the sixth day of the first hike, the one I attempted with my English setter Spook for a hiking partner. On this day I crossed 16 rivers—which meant descending 400-500 yards from the top of the ridge down to the river, then clambering up to the ridge top again on the other side. Sixteen times. It was exhausting and emotionally crushing.
    Just before sunset, I descended the last ridge to the Devil’s Track River, almost weeping with relief. I sat on a rock in the river for an hour while pumping my water filter and drinking the river. My eyes were dead, and I knew I looked like photos of soldiers who have been in combat and have that “thousand mile stare.”
    There was a tent already up in the camp. A guy in his 30s was washing up. I put up my tent and just collapsed. My partner spoke then, saying words that were too beautiful to believe: “Would you like a scotch?”
    As we sipped, Mark introduced himself. Then he said the second-most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. “Would you like a steak? I have an extra one. Tomorrow I join up with friends, and I don’t need this one. I have a real potato and an onion, too. What do you have?”
    At one point, Mark apparently decided I was someone he could trust. We had done the dishes and were staring at the flames licking merrily in the fireplace ring. “This group I’m joining tomorrow . . . it’s a club for gays and lesbians who are active out of doors.” Aha! Mark was telling me he was gay. “How nice that a club like that exists,” I said
    Mark sensed he was gay when in high school. But the times were bad for sharing something like that. Mark was one of seven children in a Catholic family headed by a stern old man who behaved like an Old Testament prophet. When Mark realized he was gay, he was horrified. The Catholic Church considered him a moral monster. Mark loved the church and felt his faith deeply, which made its disgust for him all the more difficult to bear. He tried to tell his father and his favorite brother he was gay, but they refused to let him say the words. He fled home in Brainerd for the Twin Cities.
    It was soon full dark. Our campground was deep in a gorge of rough rock. Whippoorwills trilled in the dark. We could hear the hushy roar as the river tumbled over rocks, rushing to merge with the world’s largest lake. More tired than I had ever been, I crawled into my tiny tent. Spook curled up beside me, laying a chin across my leg. Mark’s tent was right beside mine. He was still talking, and I could hear him easily through the nylon walls of our tents.
    “When I was in high school,” Mark said, “I didn’t want to be what I was, but I couldn’t help it. I was disgusted and afraid someone would learn the truth about me. I decided to date girls as a cover. One girl was really nice. Nancy liked me and didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t kiss her. I had a buddy who wanted to know if I’d ‘gone all the way’ with Nancy. Thinking I would look like a heterosexual if I said it, I told Jerry that I’d scored with Nancy. I said Nancy was hot and she had gone all the way.”
    “And here’s what bothers me,” said Mark. “Jerry later dated Nancy. Maybe he picked her because he thought she’d be easy. And HE did have sex with her. Nancy got pregnant with twins. Jerry had to marry her.
    “What I often wonder is: did my little lie in high school (screw) up the lives of four people?”

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  5. I am a stranger in a strange land.
    I am stranger in a strange land.
    I strained myself in a strange land.
    I am a poor wayfaring stranger.
    I am way stranger in a Wisconsin.

    I lived most of my life on the North Shore. Tourists are even stranger than strangers.

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  6. Morning all.

    Many years ago I was with a client in Switzerland, on a cog wheel train, going up the side of the Jungfrau Mountain when we say a family sitting near us and they were speaking English. We struck up a conversation and the woman eventually said to me “Where are you from?” I replied that I was from Minnesota.
    Her: “Where in MInnesota?”
    Me: “Minneapolis”
    Her: “Where in Minneapolis?”
    Me: “Southwest, near the lakes.”
    Her: “Where Southwest.”
    Me: “50th & Lyndale.”
    Turns out that they live about 4 blocks from me on the Minnehaha Parkway. They were very friendly and the fact that they were traveling around for 3 months with their school-age kids was fascinating to my client. We ended up having lunch together at the top of the mountain and an afternoon of interesting conversation.

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    1. Reminds me of the time we were at a state History Day contest, where we met a woman who had taught with my ex-wife’s mom. She was Dorothy, and she mentioned a weekend at her cabin.
      Kathe: Where is your cabin?
      Dorothy: You wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s on the Wisconsin shore of Superior.
      Kathe: Where on that shore?
      Dorothy: Oh, it’s an obscure little place called Cornucopia.
      Kathe: WHERE in Cornucopia?
      Dorothy: You wouldn’t know it. It’s on some land jutting into the lake called Roman’s Point.
      Kathe: WHERE on Roman’s Point? (turned out to be 1/4 mile from our place)

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  7. In 2000 two women friends and I spent some time in Europe with the main destination an international quilt show in Innsbrook, Austria. We were talking about being at the show the next day when two women at the next table started a conversation with us. The five of us went to the show and spent the next three days together. One woman was a transplant from New Jersey who had married a German fellow and owned a quilt shop. Her friend spoke very little English but New Jersey translated for her. Meeting them was the highlight of a very wonderful trip.

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  8. As part of the Great Layoff Class of 2008, I met a lot of folks while I was on my unplanned sabbatical – some of them fabulous, some of them a little frightening, some of them were just plain sad. A couple of those folks became friends – one was a woman I met at a web development demo, and we quickly realized we were in a minority being on the content side of the web world and not the development/programming side. It was a relief to find a kindred spirit.

    There is also a small group of women I met at a job transition group who have become friends for life – we still meet regularly (like a book club without a book…just life and laughter). The woman who called me to see if I’d want to join her and a couple of her friends in a smaller independent group they were forming (I was at the Childrens’ Museum when she called, surrounded my laughing and shrieking children crawling through the ant hill exhibit, so it was an extra challenge placing her out of context). At that point, human contact was good, networking with most anyone was welcome, and having someone actually seeking me out felt really good (after either no response or mostly rejections from job applications, resumes, etc.). Beyond making a bunch of new friends, that connection (and a certain amount of chutzpah on the part of the group, my pal Linda, the instigator, and my willingness to answer a “tell us your story” broadcast request), I wound up on “The Story” with Dick Gordon. My 30 minutes of NPR fame. :)

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      1. Here you go: http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_811_The_Dung_Sisters.mp3/view
        It was kinda whacky sitting in one of the studios at MPR, the engineer was behind us somewhere…I had Dick Gordon in my headphones asking questions – and there I sat looking out at all the really smart people in the newsroom. Gary Eichten walked by the window and all I could think is, “what on earth am I doing here? I’m not smart like these people…” It was, however, one of the coolest experiences I ever had, and Dick Gordon is a ton of fun as an interviewer. He really sets you at ease and allows it to feel like a conversation (even though you can’t see him). Didn’t really think about that someone besides my mom and maybe a few friends would be hearing it until I heard it myself on air…and then got a couple of really nice notes from people who had heard it (like the lady in CA who was also experiencing unemployment at the time and was afraid to tell her friends and was so relieved to hear that someone else was going through the same feelings and experiences – that made my time so worth it, to know I had helped someone else in some way).

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        1. I was out of work for about 7 months, I figure I got off pretty easy, given the economy. I hope your friend finds work soon. And glad you enjoyed the interview.

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  9. Seems like there should be more, but all I’m remembering is when Husband was in grad school (Muncie IN) in early 80s, and Joel was 1 – 2 yrs. We would bike to things like community band concerts, and spread out a blanket to sit on. One evening, not far from our blanket was another threesome containing blond two-year-old girl named…something like Shelly. The two somewhat precocious toddlers had a ball, and in our area of the audience kind of stole the show with their “dancing”. We spoke to the other parents before leaving, exchanged phone #s, and we got the kids together a few times, and exchanged christmas cards for a while.

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  10. We met the most wonderful people at Suzuki String Summer Institutes in Montreal and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. One Montreal mom has become a good friend-she is an English (but bilingual) Quebecer who married a francophone Quebecer, and our daughters text and phone all the time.

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  11. Evening gang.
    Been thinking about this all day. Steve, your story really got in there deep; we just don’t know how our actions will affect others.

    You all have such positive stories of encounters with strangers. I must have some; in fact the members of this blog were all strangers once upon a time but I sure value your friendship now.

    I encountered a seed corn salesman who turned out to be an insurance salesman and he didn’t understand the meaning of ‘No’. It wasn’t until about the third time I said “NO!!” when my eyes popped out of my head and there was smoke in my ears and spittle before he took the hint.

    I’m not a complete ogre… just once in a while–when they deserve it. :-)

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