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 thereâ€™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, â€œYou dropped it,â€ and pointed behind me. I donâ€™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 couldnâ€™t see anything, so I asked what I had dropped. â€œYour smile!â€ she replied.
I must have been in a receptive mood for whatever reason because I actually did smile at that point. I even said â€œThanks for the reminder!â€ 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. Iâ€™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 Iâ€™m grouchy when they first see me since I donâ€™t usually think to try to look pleasant. If Iâ€™m being introduced to someone I think Iâ€™m pretty good at being pleasant and agreeable, but my walking-around face defaults to â€œleave me aloneâ€ Iâ€™m pretty sure. I donâ€™t know this for a fact since I donâ€™t see myself walking around, but Iâ€™m guessing thatâ€™s how it is.
By the time Iâ€™d bought a book and a DVD, I was actually considering the experience a positive one and hoping Iâ€™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 â€“ most likely her â€œsmileâ€ line again â€“ then she must have remembered me because she stopped and said, â€œOhâ€¦ never mind.â€ Then she took a step away, but then turned around and came back. â€œHeyâ€¦â€
She engaged me in conversation as I headed to my car â€“ â€œYou seem nice, are you nice?â€
â€œNo, Iâ€™m super-creepy.â€
She took a mock-step away, â€œUhâ€¦ see ya! Nah, just kidding. Are you this nice all the time.â€
â€œI try to be.â€
â€œWell, then, you want to help me?â€
I, in my naivetÃ©, had no idea what was going on. â€œUh, with what?â€
At that point she went into a sort of spiel that became more and more recognizable as she went on. â€œIâ€™d like to send you postcard from [some country] when I win this trip Iâ€™m working towards because you were so nice. Let me get your name and address.â€
â€œIâ€™m not so much about giving my full name and address out to strangers in parking lots.â€
â€œOh, me neither. So how about helping me?â€œ She takes out a laminated card. â€œDo you read magazines?â€
Ugh. Itâ€™s the old â€œIâ€™m selling magazines to win a contestâ€ bit. This oneâ€™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 couldnâ€™t this time (I really couldnâ€™t), she said, â€œOh, but see, if thereâ€™s nothing you want personally, the ones in pink you could buy and have sent to a childrenâ€™s hospital.â€
Wow. Thatâ€™s really laying it on thick. Now if I donâ€™t buy something, Iâ€™ve not only betrayed this pseudo-friendship sheâ€™s whipped up but Iâ€™m also letting down scores of sick children.
â€œI donâ€™t have checks or cash on me.â€
â€œThereâ€™s an ATM across the parking lot, and Iâ€™ll not only pay the fee, Iâ€™ll give you a piggyback ride over to it.â€
Now whoâ€™s the super-creepy one?
â€œUhâ€¦ I donâ€™t â€“â€œ
At that point, my cell phone rang. I pulled the phone out of my pocket, saw that it was Brian, said â€œHello? Really? Hang onâ€¦â€ Then, to her, â€œIâ€™m sorry, I really need to take this.â€
Utter contempt. The faÃ§ade 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, Iâ€™m sure. Her six-minute investment in me had gone belly-up â€“ I should have warned her: only long-term investors need apply. There are too many highs and lows here to get your moneyâ€™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 sheâ€™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.