Noilly Prattle: Conversation opener

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conversation opener

     You meet the nicest people on crutches.

     I am not a particularly outgoing guy. I don't approach people in the streets or in bars to start conversations. It's not that I don't like interacting with people, I'm just not very good at small talk, which severely narrows your range of conversational possibilities.

     But, since I broke my leg and started using crutches, the fact of using them seems to attract the attention and interest of some people, especially people who are themselves handicapped and using artificial devices to get around.

Františku Hospital
     While I was still in hospital and walking around the corridors for rehabilitation and exercise I heard someone call “Hello, hello!” from one of the rooms. Aha, I thought, someone who speaks English! Being on an orthopedics ward where hardly anyone spoke English was motivation enough for me to follow the sound into the room. There were two guys, one of whom was the English speaker. Apparently it was the non-English speaker who wanted to know when I had had surgery since he had had a similar operation, but didn't seem to be making much progress with his rehab. I had noticed him the previous day looking woebegone and struggling with a walker while I was making one of my rather frequent peregrinations on my crutches in the corridor, a lot of which was motivated by sheer boredom. I told them that my operation had taken place four or five days earlier and they marveled that I was walking around so much already. I was taken aback since I didn't think I was doing anything to be marveled at, I was just doing what my physical therapist told me to do. Towards the end of my stay I dropped in on them again. They both looked rather depressed. The non-English speaking guy was still struggling with his walker. The other man looked anxiety ridden and explained that he was frightened over the prospect of having surgery on his ankle. I said that that was a tough call and told them that I was being discharged the next day and wished them luck.

Prague style "hot dog" and hot wine
     Another time road buddy and I were walking near the Old Town Square as I was now doing my rehab walking around the streets instead of pacing up and down a hospital corridor. I was about to get a “hot dog” at the kiosk when I almost bumped into a man using a walker. I grinned sheepishly and apologized nodding to my crutches and shrugged indicating that we were in the same boat. He was with his wife and another couple and we all started exchanging pleasantries: the weather's nice and isn't Prague a beautiful city? How long have you been here and where are you from, etc.? Turns out they were from Amsterdam in the Netherlands and spoke English with a charming accent but quite fluently. They were in Prague for only a few days and were surprised to hear that we were spending the winter and that I had actually just spent 12 days in hospital here in Prague. They said that Amsterdam, too, was a beautiful city and we had to admit that we had not visited that city...yet. They went on their way and road buddy and I shared a “hot dog” and hot wine.

my musician and fellow cripple
     Most recently, yesterday as a matter of fact, road buddy and I decided to go walking at the fair grounds and huge park situated in the Holešovice area a little north of the Old City center where we live. We boarded a handicapped-friendly tram in our neighborhood and headed for the park. While we were walking along a trail in the wooded park I noticed an older man who was struggling along, a little bent over and leaning heavily on two crutches. (When you're on crutches yourself you tend to be more aware of other people in similar circumstances.) I didn't think more about him as we sat near a children's playground watching the kids play, but I noticed him sitting on another bench a little distance off to my left, then get up and move on. I snapped of picture of him at that moment.

     As we were walking back towards the tram stop a man approached us from behind on a kind of golf cart and started addressing me in rapid fire Czech. I apologized and told him that I didn't speak Czech, whereupon he started speaking to us in English. He also marveled at my dexterity with the crutches and said that I was “lucky” to have only broken a leg. He wondered how old I was, and called me a “kid”. I asked him how old he was, but he claimed that his English wasn't good enough. So I told him that I was 71, then he admitted that he was 76. I said that that wasn't that much of a difference at our age. I told him, since he asked, that I was American. He wanted to know where I was from and I told him. He said that he knew Boston well and had played music there.  I exclaimed: "Oh, you are a musician!" But he demurred and corrected that he “was” a musician. He was obviously in more serious condition than I, I'm guessing probably diabetes related problems with his feet and legs. Anyway, we exchanged fare thee well and god speeds and we both continued on our separate ways, he in his cart and me on my crutches.

     These are conversations that would not have happened without my indispensable conversation openers, my constant companions, my spare legs.

    Here are a few random pix from the playground bench:

Sunday strollers

"This is how you do it."

"Yeah,  I come here all the time, that's why I'm so good at it."

a banana a day keeps the jim-jams away

absolute beauty

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