I’m not a paranoid sort of person nor do I go in for conspiracy theories, but today, I swear, the universe was conspiring to keep me from reading. The day began well enough. I settled into a seat on the train for my 20-minute ride to downtown Minneapolis. My book — The Luminaries — made the time pleasantly spent. The train in the morning is usually pretty quiet, most people are on their way to work and no one has much to say at 6:45 a.m.

I was looking forward to picking up my book’s thread during my lunch break. I get 30 minutes for lunch and today was sunny and just warm enough to enjoy book and food on a bench in the courtyard outside the law school. But it was not to be. I walked out, sat down, took lunch and book from my bag and a woman walked up to me and asked if I was a lawyer. I told her no and she proceeded to tell me that the top of the trash can she had just put some paper in was rusty and I needed to tell someone about it because it was unacceptable. What I wanted to say was, “I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure it isn’t against the law to have a rusty trash bin.” What I said was “ok” in hopes that she would go away and I had no intention of saying anything to anyone about it.

I opened my lunch and turned to my book but the woman refused to leave. For the next half hour she stood right in front of me telling me about her 50-year high school class reunion in Hibbing that she will be attending next month. She also told me about the five pins she had to have put in her ankle ten years ago when she slipped and fell on some ice outside a Walgreens. She told me her work history, that she had won a customer service award at Target and they had built a store in Virginia, Minnesota because she told them to. I also learned she weighs 164 pounds and her doctor wants her to lose 30 pounds. She has two younger sisters and a friend named Margaret.

On and on she went as I ate my lunch and kept trying to read my book. At one point she even said to me, I see you are trying to read a book, that’s great, but I just have to tell you … When I finished eating I put all my things back in my bag and the woman kept talking. I stood up which forced her to step back a few paces, said have a good day, and walked away. I was a little worried she would follow me, and greatly relieved when she didn’t.

While I walked to my train station when my day was done I ran through in my mind where I had left off in my book so as soon as I got on the train I could dive right in. But it wasn’t to be. This time a man in his late 20s to early 30s started chatting me up. He was from Nebraska and visiting his mom. He likes Minneapolis and comes here as often as he can and on and on he goes, half trying for a pick up — he was on his way to get some chicken and maybe I wanted to come to? — and half talking because he loves the sound of his own voice.

I had my book out, I was obviously trying to read. He even said, I see you are reading and here I am just talking at you. In my head I said, yes, so please shut up and leave me alone. In reality I half grimaced, half smiled and looked longingly at my book while he continued to talk and talk and talk. His conversation wasn’t nearly as varied as my lunchtime companion. And even though I pointedly mentioned my husband, “Red” as he called himself, continued to tell me I had pretty eyes and a nice smile and even though he suspected I was older than him (yes, I suspect I am, I told him) he didn’t think that was a problem. And apparently he didn’t think it was a problem I am married either since he even kind of offered to walk me home after he got his chicken!

He got off the train one stop before mine, thank goodness. But he shook my hand, told me I had soft skin and it was nice talking to me and he hoped he’d see me on the train again sometime. After he left I sat in stunned silence for the three minutes it took to get to my stop. What a day!

It used to be a book meant “leave me alone” and people respected the barrier it created. What has changed? I mean both people acknowledged I was trying to read and apologized for interrupting me but then kept right on talking nonstop. People don’t respect the book barrier anymore. I was trying to read on my Kindle so maybe that makes it easier for people to pretend like they aren’t being rude. Perhaps I need to ditch my Kindle and start carrying books around with me again? Somehow I don’t think a print book would have made a difference either, at least not today.

Has anyone else noticed people not respecting the book like they used to? Or maybe it is just me and I need to work on cultivating a “don’t mess with me” attitude that will make strangers scared to even glance my way? A scowl, will that work? I have to start practicing in the mirror because I’m not sure I can actually pull one off that doesn’t look like I am in intestinal distress. But then again, if people thought I was having intestinal difficulties that might effectively keep them away too. Hmmm…

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