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Nov 2004 / elsewhere :: email this story to a friend

The Mysterious Ms. X
By Patrick Landewe

I just got off the phone with a friend — call her Ms. X — who moved to St. Louis a few days ago. Ms. X had just finished a late breakfast at South City Diner after settling into her new apartment in the vicinity of Tower Grove Park. I met Ms. X through work in southern California. Now, Ms. X and I are conducting a test of St. Louis' famed, provincial "one-degree of separation" (see also "The Matrix Unfolded" by Ajay Zutshi).

Over the next few weeks, Ms. X will be meeting her new neighbors and exploring her new hometown, guided by her own urbane tastes and social connections and sense of adventure. Perhaps, without knowing her secret identity, you will be introduced by a mutual friend at the next Mad Art event. You might unsuspectingly strike up a conversation with the mysterious Ms. X at the coffee shop, discussing the next backyard boxing line-up or the relevance of Richard Serra's sculpture to post-industrial Rust Belt cities...or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her at a crowded vegetable stand at Soulard Farmer's Market, commenting on the ripeness of the tomatoes or the odds on whether Black Bear Bakery will be serving palatable chai. You never know — one of those hip-looking strangers you pass on the sidewalk just might be the mysterious Ms. X.

This is not Ms. X ... or is it? I am in northern California, where I will be for another month. I will be returning to/passing through the river city later this year, at which time Ms. X and I will compare notes to see how much overlap exists between our respective social circles. I will introduce her to my friends and take her to my favorite hang-outs, and she will do the same for me. Maybe we will make an event out of it and get everyone together at a brew pub or coffee shop. Of course, our little social experiment is totally unbiased and purely scientific.

I met Ms. X in the Mojave Desert, where we worked together on an ecological restoration project. At that time, she already had plans to move to St. Louis upon completion of the project and to share an apartment with a longtime friend of hers. Her friend C___ works in the entertainment industry (odds are that Thomas Crone is familiar with her work).

During my last pass through St. Louis in late November, I experienced first-hand the "small world" of St. Louis. Flying back from Ecuador and landing at Lambert Airport, no sooner had I stepped onto the Metrolink I spotted Claire, who worked with me at the Black Bear Bakery. This was doubly fortunate, because I had failed to make arrangements for a place to stay overnight, and Claire offered to let me use the phone at her apartment. However, when we got there, she realized she didn't have her key with her, so we walked around the block and dropped in on Tim, also a former co-worker from the bakery. Claire called someone who had a spare key, and in a few minutes my good friend Tom showed up at the door. So there I was, within an hour of landing in St. Louis, sitting down with three friends for a spontaneous, unplanned reunion.

At that time, Tom mentioned he was looking for conservation work in California, so when I landed a job on the desert restoration corps in January, I gave Tom a call. The two of us ended up working together in the Mojave, a pair of St. Louis expatriates, where we both met the newbie St. Louis resident, the mysterious Ms. X. Tom and I peppered her with sordid stories of life in the Lou. We tried not to scare her with too many anecdotes of Mexican-mafia beheadings, witnessing crack deals in broad daylight, getting caught up in pre-emptive police sweeps, or bicycle "theft" at Union Station. Although it may bias our social experiment somewhat, we gave her tips on where to find the best pizza and the cheapest Guinness, the best European rye-bread and biggest chocolate-chip cookies, and of course, where to find fair-trade, organic coffee. As of this writing, Tom is the only St. Louis friend that Ms. X and I share in common. However, Tom is leaving for Peru this week, so his effect on our social experiment is potentially negligible.

Ms. X likes to make bets, so I may get a bottle of cheap wine or dinner date out of the deal, depending on whom she meets and how many. I hypothesize that the St. Louis social scene is so incestuous that the only way to avoid even minimal social overlap would be if Ms. X stayed indoors and played Nintendo for the next month and a half. The other possibility is that I overestimate the extent of my own St. Louis social networks, and Ms. X will discover that I am an anonymous nobody wall-flower, lost among the urban masses and hanging onto the social fringe.

Patrick Landewe, despite his gnawing misgivings, was voted "least likely to be an anonymous nobody wall-flower" by his senior class.

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