As I was getting out of my car to go into Barnes & Noble this past Saturday night, I gathered up some bits and pieces of paper that had accumulated in the car so I could throw them out in the trash can on the way into the store. When I had the van, I had ample room for a trash can, but with the car I was constantly having to shuffle it so people could sit in the backseat, so I took it out. I still keep the car fairly tidy, but sometimes there’s a straw wrapper or a newspaper section or something and it needs to be dealt with.
There were two girls walking through the parking lot as I made my way to the trashcan, and one of them called out, “You dropped it,” and pointed behind me. I don’t like to litter (and think that people who do it should have to work on a chain gang for a month), so I turned to look for whatever it was I had dropped. I couldn’t see anything, so I asked what I had dropped. “Your smile!” she replied.
I must have been in a receptive mood for whatever reason because I actually did smile at that point. I even said “Thanks for the reminder!” threw away my trash, and went in to get a hot chocolate. I mused over the exchange as I sipped my drink and browsed the store. I’m not a big fan of being talked to by strangers, but I had to admit it was a good reminder that people get an immediate impression of us based on what they see. I imagine that most people think I’m grouchy when they first see me since I don’t usually think to try to look pleasant. If I’m being introduced to someone I think I’m pretty good at being pleasant and agreeable, but my walking-around face defaults to “leave me alone” I’m pretty sure. I don’t know this for a fact since I don’t see myself walking around, but I’m guessing that’s how it is.
By the time I’d bought a book and a DVD, I was actually considering the experience a positive one and hoping I’d remember to smile more in public.
I headed back out to my car when I noticed the girl was still out there, wandering the sidewalk. When she saw me, she started to say something – most likely her “smile” line again – then she must have remembered me because she stopped and said, “Oh… never mind.” Then she took a step away, but then turned around and came back. “Hey…”
She engaged me in conversation as I headed to my car – “You seem nice, are you nice?”
“No, I’m super-creepy.”
She took a mock-step away, “Uh… see ya! Nah, just kidding. Are you this nice all the time.”
“I try to be.”
“Well, then, you want to help me?”
I, in my naiveté, had no idea what was going on. “Uh, with what?”
At that point she went into a sort of spiel that became more and more recognizable as she went on. “I’d like to send you postcard from [some country] when I win this trip I’m working towards because you were so nice. Let me get your name and address.”
“I’m not so much about giving my full name and address out to strangers in parking lots.”
“Oh, me neither. So how about helping me?“ She takes out a laminated card. “Do you read magazines?”
Ugh. It’s the old “I’m selling magazines to win a contest” bit. This one’s got a twist to it, though. See, normally I can find a magazine that I could buy to help someone out, but when I said I couldn’t this time (I really couldn’t), she said, “Oh, but see, if there’s nothing you want personally, the ones in pink you could buy and have sent to a children’s hospital.”
Wow. That’s really laying it on thick. Now if I don’t buy something, I’ve not only betrayed this pseudo-friendship she’s whipped up but I’m also letting down scores of sick children.
“I don’t have checks or cash on me.”
“There’s an ATM across the parking lot, and I’ll not only pay the fee, I’ll give you a piggyback ride over to it.”
Now who’s the super-creepy one?
“Uh… I don’t –“
At that point, my cell phone rang. I pulled the phone out of my pocket, saw that it was Brian, said “Hello? Really? Hang on…” Then, to her, “I’m sorry, I really need to take this.”
Utter contempt. The façade was gone. She ripped out the order sheet where she had ever-so-hopefully written my first name and scribbled it out. She turned and left, muttering curses at me, I’m sure. Her six-minute investment in me had gone belly-up – I should have warned her: only long-term investors need apply. There are too many highs and lows here to get your money’s worth in the short term.
As I drove off and tried to explain the situation to a very confused Brian, it struck me that she’d ruined everything. Her reminder to me to smile was still valid, but now it had the taint of salesmanship on it and I felt tricked. Even now as I write this that makes me want to scowl in rebellion.
Thanks a lot, random parking lot girl.