Sometimes I just want people to throw the cold hard truth at me, in person, to my face. I was at Target yesterday engaging with a disgruntled employee feigning a smile while ringing me up, “How are you?” I asked, and they replied painfully, “I’m great!” with a smile so unnatural I almost wished I had asked them to do it again once more while I snapped a picture with my phone. I wanted to just slam my wallet down and shout, “JUST TELL ME. I CAN TAKE IT. YOU ARE WEARING A RED POLO SHIRT AND KHAKI PANTS, HOW GREAT CAN YOU BE.” It’s not that I assume everyone isn’t feeling great, it’s just that it’s become so much easier to converse with people when they are just real. Elderly people understand this, you pass an eighty-year old in the grocery store and ask how they are doing, you’ll get the dictionary definition of honest, “Oh, I’m constipated, I just drank some of that constipation tea, you know the stuff? I’m waiting for it to work, my doctor recommended it, but he looks all of thirteen years old and that makes me nervous.” Now that’s grounds for a conversation with some substance that’s more than just spewing hot air out of our mouths.
Other people who seem to not mind a little honest heart to heart, are people who sell office supplies. Every week I get a phone call from Juliet, who is trying to sell me ink toner, and when I ask her how she is, instead of saying “Oh, I’m fine,” she says, “I just turned forty!” Her birthday was months ago but it still seems to be haunting her, “I’m ok, I just turned forty!” she tells me every week. “Wasn’t that last week, actually, wait, last month? Does that still count as just turned?” It’s really bitchy on my part because I know that if I offered, “Well, actually, I just quit this 9-6 job and bought a one way ticket to Hawaii,” she would probably gladly stick around on the phone a little longer to discuss how she visited the big island once when she was twenty-six, but that was fourteen years ago.
The first thing you learn about the workforce is that to survive you must put on a happy face. Sales people are trained to be “on” because who wants to buy anything from a grump. If you’re like me though, and your eyes are almost as big as your head, being “on” is a very daunting, all consuming chore that requires the aid of a pill, or mind altering substance that shuts off all thought or reasoning. After, “How tall are you?” “What’s wrong?” is the question I get asked the most. But I wonder if when you have to be “on” too much you slowly turn into one of those people who wander around mega chain stores on the weekends buying organizational products for fun. This is why the post office seems like a good place to work. I can’t say this as fact, but I’m almost positive that there is no corporate manual or training video that newly hired postal workers have to read and watch that instructs them to leave their problems at the door and put on a smile for the customer, and if there is, you most certainly don’t get fired if you don’t follow the rules. The last time I was there, inquiring about purchasing a media mail stamp, the beaten down woman behind the counter basically replied, “Fuck you, next in line!” “You’re allowed to talk to customers like that?” I asked to a face devoid of all spirit or joy. “Are you hiring right now?” I added.
I’ve realized that if you aren’t over sixty, employed by Ink Toner N Things, or wearing blue high waisted polyester pants, people give voice to their emotions and issues using not their face or expressions, but Facebook. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I am alerted to everyone’s physical pain, muscle aches, anxiety, ingrown toenails, bad luck, etc. Rachel has a splitting headache no over the counter prescription pill can cure. Tom hasn’t slept in three weeks and is so tired. Susan’s sad because her dog has to be put to sleep due to an out of control tumor. Of course these announcments are sprinkled in with other people’s engagement announcements, which creates a fascinating display of the human condition.
Tim proposed to Rita this past weekend at dawn in the middle of a vineyard! Sally’s back hurts, does anyone know of a good massage place that’s cheap but not sketchy? Rebecca is marrying the most wonderful man in the world! Chris just hit a bicyclist in his car. Erica and Stu are tying the knot after being madly in love for four years! Linda just shared an article she found about pesticide in Greek yogurt that has enraged and frightened her to the point that she has to get the word out, please share on your page! Tina can’t believe she’s engaged to the man of her dreams, her best friend and love of her life, only seven more months, three weeks and thirty minutes until the wedding! Ken found a pretzel in the shape of Minnesota while snacking at his desk at work and he feels a migraine coming on.
Since I have to request another persons permission to be engaged to them, I chose to update my status to “Jennifer has irritable bowel syndrome.” The first time I spelled bowel, bowl so I had to repost. It didn’t get as many likes as Mark’s status about his head cold that just won’t go away, but it did get more likes than Josh and Winona’s wedding, which they may want to take into consideration before taking the plunge in three months, two weeks, seven hours, twenty-two minutes and twenty five seconds.
Now when I ask people how they are and they respond, “I’m doing alright,” I wonder if their facebook says that as well, Jane is doing alright.