Ryan Lascelles on the lookout for someone to buttonhole in downtown Red Bank, and talking with Irina Kohut of Keansburg, below, about a painting she’d just made. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
No, that’s not a headline out of the Onion. Ryan Lascelles is trying to outgrow a lifetime of social anxiety through an unusual experiment: by forcing himself to initiate conversations with at least three strangers a day for a month.
The 23-year-old Little Silver resident launched his endeavor last week in downtown Red Bank. And as luck would have it, the very first fish he hooked turned out to be none other than redbankgreen.
Three years ago, Lascelles told us, he “really had a life-check:” just before his 20th birthday, he was diagnosed with cancer.
The illness came on the heels of a lackluster four years at Red Bank Regional, from which he said he “barely graduated,” and a series of menial jobs. He never gave a thought to attending college, and “didn’t take life very seriously,” he said.
He emerged from chemo last August with a clean bill of health – the Monmouth Medical Center website features a story about his treatment – and the realization that his going-nowhere life would be fuller if he could “cross that bridge and start a conversation.”
“It’s just a personal hangup I’m trying to get over,” he said. “I want to change myself for the better.”
So last week, he embarked on his quest: three chats a day, in person, with strangers, for a month. Conversations with clients of the chiropractic office where he works as an assistant don’t count, he said.
Day one, last Thursday, he admitted, was a “failed day.” He walked around downtown and couldn’t work up the nerve to approach anyone.
Still, he steeled himself for another try, and on Friday, he sat on a bench with a handwritten sign beside him. It read, “Sit down. Have a conversation. Ask me anything.”
Passing by, redbankgreen took the bait. Though we initiated the chat, it was a start. It turned out Lascelles had been sitting there, opposite the Chase bank branch, for 45 minutes.
Lascelles explained that he wasn’t exactly shy: he has friends and plays bass in a band, the Mercury Brothers, which is a regular at the Monday night open mics at the Downtown.
“The main reason I started this is that I’m kind of the quiet guy,” he said. he said he “I’m just not socially competent.”
He’s resolved to change that, or at least try. Not that it was a breeze. Though he appeared at ease, “I’m trying very hard right now,” he said of our conversation.
When redbankgreen stepped away to snap some pictures of him, a pair of women went by, carrying paintings they’d made at the nearby Pinot’s Palette studio. Lascelles asked one of them what it was, and a brief conversation ensued.
Lascelles said he plans to document his experiment in some way, and “by the 30th day, I want to be the one starting the conversation” with greater ease, he said.