Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You Know Who You Are

I was making my semi-weekly pass through the craigslist missed connections, and I came across this rather profound post:

L'élégance du hérisson - m4m - 53 (Foggy Bottom Metro)

Reply to: pers-642778745@craigslist.org
Date: 2008-04-14, 11:23PM EDT

Nous lisions le même livre, à la même page. Vous savez qui vous êtes!

Location: Foggy Bottom Metro

The translation, more or less, is "We were reading the same book, the same page. You know who you are!" Because I had to google it and therefore you must be subjected to the results of my research I know you're interested in this sort of thing, L'élégance du hérisson (The Elegance of the Hedgehog) is, apparently, the critically acclaimed second novel of Muriel Barbery. I know nothing about it, but I note from the publisher's description that it contains two narratives, one by a fifty-four-year-old caretaker. The person who posted the ad is fifty-three. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

If you were riding the (Washington) Metro and happened to be reading the same page of the same French novel as another rider, you could be excused for feeling that the hand of fate was giving you a push. I mean, it's not like being swallowed by a whale, but it's still a highly unlikely coincidence. It is perhaps, a sad commentary on our society that the reaction to the hand of fate is not to introduce yourself to your fellow Francophone but to post an ad on the missed connections, but Francophones, like hedgehogs, are notoriously prickly. I have not personally found this to be the case (with Francophones, that is: I presume that hedgehogs are not faking the prickliness), but the stereotype clearly exists.

In any case, I find the last sentence of the ad to be the most intriguing: you know who you are! I suppose the most pedestrian reading is that the writer is saying that there can be no doubt as to who he's addressing because, after all, what are the odds that there were two sets of people reading the same page of the same porcupine-related French novel at the Foggy Bottom Metro station on the same day? No better than 40%, I'm guessing. (All of this makes me wonder whether, if I were to go to the Paris missed connections page, I'd find a similar posting titled The Road or The Echo Maker. I'm going to go with no on that one.) If that's the reading, then when the writer says, "You know who you are!" what he really means is "You know who I am. Let's fuck."

But perhaps the writer is being somewhat more metaphysical. "You know who you are" can certainly mean that the writer believes his intended reader has a strong sense of self. The exclamation point, then, becomes merely a mark of admiration for that strong sense of self. Of course, if you're saying that someone who was reading the same thing you were reading has a strong sense of self, you're implying that you, too, have an admirably strong sense of self and that your admirably strong sense of self tracks fairly closely the other guy's admirably strong sense of self. So, hear again: "You know who I am. Let's fuck!"

There is, of course, a third possible interpretation: "Dude, why were you reading over my shoulder when you obviously don't speak French. Next time, maybe just grope me instead. You know who I am. Let's fuck!" But I'm probably being too cynical with that one.

In any case, it's an all-too-rare instance of a missed connections post that (while still misguided and unlikely to result in success) is entirely charming. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of posts where charming was not so much the effect. Take this example (please):
racist-anti-semantic-gay at jr's...threating to call masad - m4m - 26 (DC)

Reply to: pers-642913158@craigslist.org
Date: 2008-04-15, 3:09AM EDT

you walk up to a stranger and call my friend a 'not jew' throw around the 'n word' and then say k__e. then you try to talk shit about me. come on---dude--grow some and talk to my face. you are a weasel. you give gay a sad name....congrats on your campaign work!

Location: DC

What a world we live in. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a guy who's anti-semantic. I will acknowledge that when you're in a bar, words are sometimes less effective than actions, but this appears not to have been one of those times. I think the writer may have made an error since the oaf in question appears to have used too many, rather than too few, words, but of course I wasn't there, and trying to figure out what actually happened by reading the mc ads is the ultimate example of through a glass darkly. Not that most of these guys are people you'd want to meet face to face.

In an unrelated matter, b&c and I are off on our annual post-busy season mini-vacation tomorrow morning. I'm not sure whether he's bringing his laptop. There may be vacation posts, but if not, I'll be back sometime around Sunday.

Happy tax day. I hope you're all getting refunds, or, at least, that you know who you are.


Lewis said...

What??!! Are you telling me that these guys are all in the Foggy Bottom Metro station? I'll be right there.

Tork said...

DO you think those missed connections ads EVER work? I think the lesson is "Speak now, or forever hold your peace" because if you don't, you will be holding your piece yourself that night and the night after that.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

Oh, Lewis. I got through that entire entry without making a Foggy Bottom joke, and it was not easy. Why are you tempting me again?

I agree entirely, Tork. I suppose one or two might have worked over the last ten years, but mostly the people don't see them, and if they do, they probably either think that the guy posting the ad is lame or don't remember him or didn't talk to him in the first place for a reason.

Anonymous said...

hi tnwh, g'day from australia. great pics, and love reading your blog. love your work! (and I wasn't refering to your day job either).

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

Thanks, anon. You know who you are!