Friday, June 12, 2009

The 400 People You Don't Know

At some point, we have all discovered that someone we know has long known someone else we know, though none of us was aware of it. This interrelationship is the basis for the "Six Degrees of Separation," by which you can connect anyone in the world with anyone else in the world in six steps or less. Or, as I refer to it, there are only 400 people in the world that you don't know.

For example, one morning Laurie and I were participating in the Breast Cancer Walk and met up with a couple who played volleyball with me. I knew only their first names, just as they only knew me as "Bob from volleyball." As we were walking, he was telling me about his son and his daughter, where they were going to college, etc. and the stories had a familiar ring to them. I suddenly realized that his two kids were friends of my son Chuck, that both had been to my house numerous times, and that he had been there to pick them up! Further, his ex-wife (the mother of the two kids) is a good friend of Laurie's.

One summer night some years ago, Chuck and Sammi were at a party and Laurie and I went to pick them up. When we arrived, I met Bruce, another volleyball player who I've also played against in softball. When I asked him if he was also there to pick up his kids, he said, "No, I live here." He too had been to our house to pick up his kids, knew Laurie on sight, but did not connect her or our kids to me.
But this story gets even better. We were telling this story to my brother and sister-in-law at Thanksgiving dinner and Felice exclaimed. "I know Bruce. I went to high school with him!" A quick phone call on Laurie's part did in fact confirm this.

While marching in a local parade with the Girl Scouts, Laurie discovered one of her former high school classmates with the troop behind hers. She then learned that this woman lives on our block, seven houses away, and that her daughter and Sammi knew one another.

A dozen houses further up the block lives the man who ran the security desk at 1325 Avenue of the Americas, one of the homes of DC Comics while I worked there. I used to see him every morning when I came in but did not know he was a neighbor till one day when I rode past his house on my bike and saw him putting out the garbage!

The woman who hired me to work at Preload turned out to be good friends with a man who had been one of my brother Jim's close pals in high school. He, in fact, was the person who drove me home from my bachelor party in 1974 and our paths had not crossed in almost thirty years since.

While we were on a cruise a couple of years ago, Laurie struck up a conversation with a younger couple who, it turned out, lived in Madison, Wisconsin. One of my oldest friends lives there, but it's a large city, so what are the odds, right? Not only did the woman know Alan, but Alan's wife Linda was her mentor!

The list of such "coincidences" goes on but perhaps my favorite is the story of "Spud." Back in 1993, the first year that Laurie and I taught Writing & Imagination in the CTY program, we had a young man who told us his nickname was "Spud." For the entire three weeks of the class, that was the name we and his classmates called him.
On the last day, we had a conference with Spud's parents, and they were puzzled when we kept referring to him by that name. Finally, his father said, "Are you sure you're talking about my son Billy?" Laurie replied that he had told us it was his nickname. "It never was before!" said his mother. Billy had apparently decided to be Spud when he got to CTY.
Ten years later, in another CTY class, I was telling the story to my students when Lauren, my Teaching Assistant, exclaimed, "Wait a minute! I go to school with Billy!" Indeed, she and Spud (though he was never Spud again after that first CTY summer) were both at Gettysburg, taking English classes together.

So...when you are in a crowd of strangers, they might be some of the 400 people you don't know. Chances are, however, that they know some of the same people you do.

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean. A friend I made in college turned out to be one of the kids my Great Aunt babysat and a friend I made at church turned out to be the son of my Dad's best friend in high school.