Lies My Canvasser Told Me

by

05/01/2011

Neighborhood: Herald Square, Uncategorized

Lies My Canvasser Told Me
Photo by Richard Eriksson

I support a poor kid whose name I don’t know in a country I don’t remember the name of, somewhere in South America, I think. This happened because I was stopped on the street on my way to meet a friend for dinner at a nice restaurant, singled out from the after-work stream of people flowing west on 34th to 7th Avenue. My obstacle was a young woman with a big smile whose clipboard—whose agenda—was concealed shrewdly behind her back.

She asked if she could talk to me, was pretty, had eyes that were open and interested. Our faces nearly touched. Hers filled my vision completely, as though in an effort to block out all thought of the thriving city around us. She spoke fast. Her lips frothed with stats that I could barely hear, stats that meant nothing at all but SADNESS, though of course my head was nodding and—I discovered, hearing myself—I was making mm-hm sounds and even, on occasion, whenever the music of our exchange required it, saying the word “wow.” I volleyed with her that way for an amount of time that felt significantly longer than any exchange in recent memory.

The clipboard that suddenly appeared in her hands was covered in stickers for her organization and cause. She was circling dollar amounts. I took it that these were my options.

When she stopped speaking her pen was resting on the smallest amount, the amount she said I could just give—as opposed to the higher amounts, which, if chosen, constituted an unqualified and fuller kind of giving. I then realized with not a little dread that she had mistook the sounds I had been making and the motion of my head as indicators of real interest, of sympathy or willingness, or—her eyes widening further—that I was a person on whom her words had had impact, a good person.

Now came the feeling that I had often felt before, one that I built my life, largely, to avoid—that I had committed myself falsely, that I had made promises I could not keep. It was a feeling, the fear of which had kept me from ever having once responded, either in the positive or negative, to a single e-vite. I did not know what I was going to do and liked very much to keep it that way.

How wretched and embarrassing it was for both of us that she had read me so closely and not taken heed of a person’s natural inclination to nod thoughtlessly to the tune of another’s speech. My head began to move the other way now, laterally, the side-to-side direction of no progress at all, a movement of the head that could have worked well in a modern art museum as a performance piece called Status Quo Keeping.

Still our faces were near touching—the distance at which people stand at the end of a date, when the walk home has come to its inevitable end. I told her this was not the way I wanted to do this, that it had no value, now, except as the submission of one person to the persuasiveness of another, that it could constitute nothing but my own weakness, that this wasn’t at all about children who are hungry—it was about her and I and the erasure of one another’s personal space. I told her that she was a woman and that I was a man. I suggested, unattractively, that these things were not coincidental but essential reasons for what was happening, for the closeness of her eyes to mine. Her pen waited there, still, on the brink, possibly, of her daily quota.

She said she was good at what she did and that because of this goodness she would try not to be offended by what I was suggesting and I had the feeling that this was something for which I was meant to be grateful. She said that she was an actress and that she could have done something more lucrative to support herself while pursuing her craft but this was what called out to her as needing more than anything else to be done.

I told her that if I gave her my credit card number—which I seemed already to be in the process of doing, my hand entering my pocket—it would not be for any child in any country anywhere, but for her. And if that was the case, I asked, did she still want it? Her eyes blinked. She stepped back.

After a moment, she said, well, I think you’ll be happy once you’ve done it, that you’ve made a difference.

I said, no, I won’t, I will feel like a person who has caved in to carefully applied pressure—that, in fact, by taking my money then, she was depriving me of the good feeling that might have come from going home and making an online donation on my own initiative. But then I realized she was busily copying my credit card number onto her form—not really listening anymore, just nodding.

A couple weeks later another young woman stops me—this one with beautiful tattooed trees climbing up her arm. I tell her that I have already been got and she says, “you’re awesome! High five!” Walking on toward the train, I do not feel awesome, but I do feel satisfied at having solved the problem of how to deal with these people: give them what they want. If you do, some kid somewhere might even get to eat, and a struggling actress too. I wonder how she’s doing.

Mac Barrett’s fiction, poetry, reviews, and essays have appeared in Salt Hill Review, Hanging Loose, The Brooklyn Rail, on Anderbo.com, Salon.com, and on the radio for WBAI. He works at CUNY TV as a producer of book-related programming.

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§ One Response to “Lies My Canvasser Told Me”

  • Thomas says:

    Could you not just tell her “no thanks “, and just walk on . Tho if she was a looker i can understand your reluctance to exit quickly

§ Leave a Reply

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