I like to know surprising details about people. Details make people more human and knowing these details makes you feel closer to the person. So when I am feeling social (rarely) and sick of small talk (often), I ask specific questions about people's families and childhoods, hoping to bring out these details. I'm gleaning. I'm always happy and surprised to find the little nuggests, as if without them I was not convinced that there was not a person there at all, just some android that appeared out of air in front of me recently and will soon go away. But no, look, this is a person, just like I am a person, and here we both are! What are the chances?
There's a guy I know who hangs out and drinks with Josh and his buddies sometimes. I like him, and he must like me well enough to keep talking to me even though I can be a jerk. I know he has a little sister, and I've asked him a lot of questions about that. I don't have any little sisters, but I am one, and I've always wondered how that feels on the other side. Once, I was talking to him in a bar, and someone asked if I was his older sister, which formed some sort of bond between us - mistaken identity siblings, I guess. I used that angle to nag him a lot about his smoking that night. See? I'm a jerk.
But one time, I must have been in a weird sort of mood, because I asked him to tell me something surprising about himself. I was maybe tired of trying to dig out details or perhaps I was just feeling bold, because that is the sort of blunt and open-ended question that makes people uncomfortable. And yet, people love to talk about themselves. Look at me. I have a special place on the internet where I drop inconsequential details about myself all the time just so there is evidence that I am a person, too.
Anyway, this is what he told me: He really likes Murder, She Wrote.
I was floored. What an awesome detail. I had known him for a couple of years and all the time he was just walking around, liking Murder, She Wrote, and I never even knew. How many others are around us with these kind of secrets that aren't really secrets but might as well be for as long as it takes anyone else to discover them? How many other twenty-three year olds know that Jessica Fletcher's nephew's name is Grady?
We talked about the show. My parents both like TV mysteries, and so I've seen a lot. Matlock, Perry Mason*, Columbo, the works. I liked them all. Matlock, who was like the gentle, teasing Southern men at my church, except he caught bad guys for a living. Perry Mason, so austere and calm, sending Paul Drake to do the dirty work and always having a sort of ambiguous relationship with Della Street. But Columbo was my favorite. I loved the way he snuck in, annoying and bumbling and seeming so incompetant, that crazy eye going every which way, but then BAM! He caught you. I loved to see Columbo get his man.
And I liked ole Jessica Fletcher, who lived in Cabot Cove, Maine, a small town that seemed to have a serious homicide problem. Maybe I related to her especially, because she was a writer. We used to watch Murder, She Wrote on Sunday nights with popcorn and coke. We sat on the floor because we weren't allowed to eat on the couch. My mom would remark upon the familiar names in the episode's guest stars, names that meant nothing to me because I was eight and had no idea who William Conrad and Ricardo Montalban were. Sometimes I would ask who those people were, because the names obviously meant something to her, and she would tell me, but I wouldn't get it, because they all seemed to fall into the general category of Some Old Guy That Used To Be Famous.
Except for her role as Jessica Fletcher, which earned her relevance in my world, Angela Lansbury herself could have fallen into that category. But that role seems more like an easy and comfortable retirement job, the equivalent as a part-time greeter at Wal-Mart, after the rest of her career. When I saw her in The Manchurian Candidate, I was blown away by how a.)beautiful and b.)terrible she was. It was discovering her anew, realizing that she was a lot more than some silly TV show where she was a widow improbably solving improbable mysteries. She became Angela Lansbury instead of Jessica Fletcher.
It was a little like finding out that some guy you've been having beer with for years really likes Murder, She Wrote.
*The whole reason I started writing this was because I found this great Perry Mason site by James Lileks, who has lots of amazing nostalgia content on his site and also has in-jokes with Dave Barry.