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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Some Cruelties You Can’t Prevent

I try not to be rude to people.

Well, not by my definition of “rude”, at least. If other people have a concept of rudeness that includes eye rolling, snarky comments or putting one’s hands over one’s ears and shouting “LALALALALALA!!!” when another person is talking… well, then that’s probably different. Some people are just sensitive, I suppose.

The real key in avoiding being rude to people, of course, is to avoid interacting with them in the first place.

(Not all of them, naturally. That would be crazy.)

(Just most of them.)

(Like, an extremely high percentage. Multitudes, for sure.)

(Maybe I should make you a list of people not to avoid. That would probably be faster. We’ll work on that.)

But running to the other side of the street — or hiding under a desk, or playing dead in a restaurant booth — won’t work in every single instance. So I figure, when someone goes to the trouble to thwart my wily defenses, the least I can do is be nice. Show a little common courtesy. Try to hide the horror in my voice; that sort of thing.

Most of the people who penetrate my inner social sanctum are, naturally, marketers.

Let’s face it — these are people trained to get in your face. It doesn’t matter what they’re selling, or collecting for, or selling boxes of cookies in the service of. Some of them probably aren’t selling anything — they just bother people for practice, honing salesperson skills to slap on their resumes:

* Can annoy up to 60 people per minute! See references!

Even to these people, I try to be nice.

“If you’re selling, I’m not only not buying — I don’t speak English, someone just stole my wallet, and I gave at the office already. Twice.”

Oh, I duck them. Don’t get me wrong; I duck the everloving bejeesus out of marketers of every stripe. I screen my calls, as best I can. I don’t answer the door for anyone holding a clipboard, a sample case or promotional pamphlets. I don’t make eye contact in the mall with anyone standing within twelve feet of a sales kiosk. My goal is to be invisible, unapproachable and entirely inaccessible. If you’re selling, I’m not only not buying — I don’t speak English, someone just stole my wallet, and I gave at the office already. Twice.

But occasionally, somebody slips through. Like this afternoon, when I answered my cell phone without looking, thinking it would likely be my wife, asking about a ride home.

It was not my wife. It was a lady from the ASPCA. And she wanted money.

Now, here’s the thing. I like the ASPCA. I’ve given the ASPCA money in the past, which is probably why they’re calling me today. I’m a big fan of animals in general, so long as they’re not actively biting me or trampling me or pooping on things that I care about.

(And clearly, even those rules aren’t hard and fast.)

But in recent years, the missus and I have decided to give locally instead. The MSPCA has accumulated a fair amount of our cash — some in donations, and more for the care of our oft-broken pooch who passed away last year. So I was disinclined, just at the moment, to donate money to the ASPCA.

It’s not personal. It’s not even because of those rend-your-sackcloth-and-jump-off-a-building Sarah McLachlan commercials.

(But seriously, those are awful. For the love of Lassie, at least show an “after” picture once in a while, in the middle of all the scrawny horrors. You can actually help some of them, if we fork over the dough… right?)

So I wanted to be nice. It wasn’t this lady’s fault she’d caught me off guard, in the office on a long Monday afternoon. If I were on my game, she’d have gotten my voice mail and left me a message that I’d never listen to, and we’d both go on about our lives. I tried, hard, not to hold the fact that she was actually speaking to me against her. I just wanted to fend her off, as gently as possible, and end the call. Quickly.

She told me about all the animals out there who need help. I said I knew, agreeably, which seemed to encourage her. So clearly, that was the wrong angle to take.

She told me about all of the good work the ASPCA is doing. I tried to sound doubtful — but nice! — and she spent several minutes going over the details of their programs. Another poor tactic on my part.

She asked whether I had any animals at home. I told her that my dog died recently, thinking it might slow her down.

(Hey, nine months can be “recent”. Like, in geological terms. Or cosmology. Shut up.)

Instead, she took it as an invitation to tell me about all of her current animals, and the ones she’d adopted that had lived and loved and died with her in the last, I don’t know, seventeen hundred years, approximately. I assume she did this as some sort of commiseration with my loss; for me, it was more like sitting through the audio version of a Ken Burns documentary: “Dogs: An Exhaustively-Annotated Personal History“.

We made it through that phase — barely — and she finally got around to asking for money.

(She did that trick that most donation-seekers seem to do, noting the amount I’d given in the past and then saying what they’d like to have, even when the two are orders of magnitude apart.

I’m not sure why they do this. I don’t remember what I gave the ASPCA back whenever the hell I gave them something. Maybe I was unusually magnanimous, or drunk, or had just run through Scrooge McDuck’s treasure vault for loose change. If you leave the mystery there, it’s just possible I might think that today’s request isn’t way out of line with past giving. But when you tell me:

It looks like last March, you gave us twenty dollars. Would you be able to join our ‘Tail Waggers Club’ this time around with a donation of just three hundred bucks a week? It’s just a teensy little bump…

I’m convinced these are the same people who get into medicine, and warn that “you might feel a little pressure” just before they come in with the rib spreader.)

Still. I wanted to be nice. The lady was doing a job, and for a good cause, and she wasn’t being overly pushy about it. Also, she’d already gotten me out of twenty minutes of work on a Monday, and I usually have to crawl under my desk and cry for that. So I owed her something for that.

Not ‘money’, mind you. But a little kindness. Or feigned detached interest, which is what passes for kindness at 4:30 on workday afternoons.

She was halfway through her secondary spiel, waxing excitedly about all the great things my money would do if I’d just give in and fork it over already. They’d save every cat in Mississippi. Puppy mills would get outlawed by federal decree. Horses would earn liberal arts degrees, and wouldn’t have to run in muddy circles any more. Rainbows and bunnies and manna from heaven, et cetera.

It was somewhere during this bit that I lost her. Not mentally — I checked out soon after I realized I wasn’t married to the person on the other end of the line. No, I mean my signal dropped and just as she was singing the glorious praises of the organization, she heard a click. And then a pause. And then a dial tone. And I’m certain her next thought was, “Asshole!

I nearly called her back.

It’s not as though I haven’t hung up on people before. Rude people, sure. People with causes or products or pitches I don’t care for. But this time, I was trying to be nice — hell, I was being nice — and still my phone and hamsters-in-wheels phone carrier conspired to make me look like a dick. To a telemarketer, of sorts.

Frankly, they probably had the right idea all along. I try to be nice. But maybe I should take the hint. Maybe there’s something for my cell phone that can even help train me:

“Want to be an asshole to strangers who call you? There’s an app for that.

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