In my efforts to encourage people to do something kind for someone they don’t know, I sometimes reference a song by Tom Waits that he recorded as a duet with Bette Midler. It’s called “I Never Talk to Strangers” and it’s 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 I think makes the song lyric so strong.
She really goes on the attack in the third verse, telling him that his “life is like a dime store novel” and that the “town is full of guys like you.” Hurt, 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 really suckers, these two lonely people?
The fourth verse cinches it as a brilliant statement on loneliness and even the human condition, that if we’re never willing to talk to strangers, we’ll never meet anyone. 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.
If you take the time to get to know someone, poof, like magic, you’re no longer strangers. And after all, we all begin as strangers, right?