Saturday, November 7, 2015


   By Mary Kennedy    

Do you remember Blanche Dubois' famous line in "A Streetcar Named Desire?"  She said, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."             
Which brings me to an interesting question. Kindness is one thing but would you take advice from a stranger?  I'm guessing we all take advice from a trusted friend or family member from time to time. We assume that they know us and have our best interests at heart.  Of course, sometimes these "advice-givers" are hopelessly unqualified to advise us, but we probably assume they mean well.
Sometimes advice from a stranger can make a world of difference.
 Last winter, I was sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, waiting for a flight back to Philadelphia. It was humid and my hair had turned into a complete fuzz ball. I noticed a woman sitting across from me with sleek blonde hair in a fashionable bob, not one strand out of place. She could have stepped out of a shampoo commercial. She caught me staring at her and I confessed that I wished I knew her secret. How did she get that silky smooth look in off-the-charts humidity? I needed advice--badly!
      At that very moment, her flight was called and she gathered her belongings and headed to the gate. As she passed by me, she touched a lock of my frizzy hair and softly, "I just have one word for you. Sulfates."
I thought of that famous line in The Graduate, "Plastics." Sulfates? What in the world was she talking about?
"Wait!" I pleaded as she moved past me. "Are sulfates good or bad?"
"Bad, my dear, very bad. Avoid them at all costs."
"How do I do that?" Now I had jumped out of my seat and was trailing after her like a border collie.
"It's easy. Just buy hair products without them. Throw out your shampoo and conditioner and start over with sulfate-free products."  And then she handed her ticket to gate agent and boarded the plane.
Wow!  Could it be true? Was this really the answer to my hair woes?  I did as she suggested, went home and threw out all my shampoos and conditioner.  I re-stocked my bathroom with sulfate-free products.
I wish I could say a miraculous transformation has taken place. Do I have the silky blonde tresses of the glamorous woman in the airport? Sadly, no. I'm beginning to think that in addition to going sulfate-free, she was blessed with very good hair.
But I definitely see a positive difference in my hair. Less fuzzy, more shine. (I'm not auditioning for any shampoo commercials, but I'm happy with the results).
Of course, hair is a pretty mundane issue. I've also been given tons of advice (often unsolicited) on more important issues. When people learn that I'm a mystery novelist, they often offer me advice on what I "should" be writing. Last week, a perfect stranger told me in no uncertain terms that I should be writing "graphic novels." He insisted that graphic novels were the "wave of the future" and I was wasting my time writing my Dream Club Mysteries for Penguin-Random House series.  He also insisted that "no one wants to read these days, they just want to look at pictures." (although that's a topic for another whole blog!)
How about you? Have you ever received advice from a stranger that was helpful? Have you ever gotten advice that was wildly wrong for you? What did you tell the advice-giver?  I'd love to hear your experiences!
By Mary Kennedy