There was a time, ages ago, when I would've taken any legal job for money. Lord knows I applied for everything, and eventually compatible employment found me, but, Jesus. What if I’d actually found myself working behind the register at a fast-food franchise or grocery store? It would've been a complete nightmare, because I’m not a naturally social person, and just the thought of making change for strangers and being goaded into small talk gives me the heebie-jeebies. Uh-uh. No way. Not for me, no ma’am.
Which brings us to you.
You work the mid-morning shift at the nearby gas station/convenience store, and you’re as miserable and dead-eyed a soul as I’ve ever encountered. You are tiny, mousy, and barely audible. You decline to fully meet the eyes of any customer—your eyes are rat-like—and upon completion of a transaction, wish him or her a good day so begrudgingly that it comes across as a minor insult. It was a relief when, after a month or two of patronizing this store, I realized that it wasn't just me—that you really loathe everyone, your job, and yourself.
Context is everything, and it’s worth noting here that you suffer in light of your colleagues being more naturally affable. The crazily bearded manager who looks like he should be fronting a bargain-basement Static-X. The blonde, toothless 50ish ladies who work nights. The slightly haughty twentysomething chick who calls me “darling”; the junior dye-job crone who flirts sleepily. The blandly schizophrenic semi-Latina who I’m guessing was either fired or quit. The very pregnant lady who I’d always see chain-smoking outside.
All of these people possess and display varying degrees of personality, such that the experience of entering the store and foraging for a soft drink, quart of OJ, or some chips becomes a brief and enjoyable episode in the course of a day otherwise spent in front of a laptop in a quiet apartment—unless you’re working the register, in which case the experience is a deadening one.
What I want from you—and what every regular probably wants from you—is very little. Not small talk, because that’s probably something you’re unwilling or incapable of providing anyway. It’s not necessary for you to call me “honey” or care what my name is or even share yours, because that’s a pandering and self-serving device on the part of the person attempting to fabricate a connection.
I just want you to smile. A little smile. Some sign—however small—that you’re aware of how lucky you are, how lucky we all are, to be alive and mobile and reasonably self-sufficient and employed and able to communicate our dreams, desires, and fears. It’s not important for us to like each other, or be friends; that’s hardly realistic, and not what either of us want. But there’s no reason to suffer through life as though the world is perpetually on the verge of asphyxiating you.