Those of you who have participated in past kindness classes of mine may recall the theme of doing something kind for a stranger. In support of that theme, I sometimes have referenced a song by Tom Waits, what Waits recorded as a duet with Bette Midler. It’s called “I Never Talk to Strangers.”
The song is the story of a man and a woman at a bar. In the first verse, the man tries a series of pick-up lines and the woman, savvy from this kind of experience, starts finishing them for him. In the second verse he’s been kind of defeated and tries to defend himself, while she goes on the attack. Each verse ends with her telling him, “I never talk to strangers anyway,” a bit ironic since she is talking to him, a stranger, to tell him she never talks to strangers, part of what makes the song lyric so strong.
The third verse is where she really goes on the attack, telling him that his “life is like a dimestore novel” and that the “town is full of guys like you.” Wounded, he stabs back, “You’re bitter ’cause he left you,” assuming she’s alone in the world and, “That’s why you’re drinking in this bar.” Both wounded, more by life than by the other, the third verse is capped by them heartbreakingly singing together, “Only suckers fall in love with perfect strangers.”
Are they suckers?
The fourth verse cinches it as a brilliant statement on loneliness and even the human condition, that if we are never willing to talk to strangers we’ll never meet anyone. After all, we all begin as strangers, right? The man and woman in the song alternate lines before symbolically singing the last few together. And unlike the third verse, where they are singing together but separately, this time they are singing together with each other. After all, if you take the time to get to know someone, poof, like magic, you are no longer strangers.