Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Say What? (Encounters with Street Hawkers I)

A couple of days ago I went down to the bank during lunchtime and bumped into a Street Hawker. For some reason, my encounters with the various peddlers, activists, charity workers and advertisers one finds on street corners during the day will 90% of the time provide an experience for me to reflect over for the remainder of the day. This time was no exception. I was walking back from the bank while pondering the endless forms and applications that seem to accompany any kind of activity these days when two semi-gothic activist type girls zeroed in on me.

"Hi - Would you like to help stop animal cruelty?"

Of course, between the lines this was: "Hi - Would you like to make a donation (and/or register with our mailinglist) to help stop animal cruelty?"

A dozen things flashed through my mind in an instant. Global warming. Bush's mad drive for World Domination(tm). The coming global economic recession. Massacres in Dafur. We can't even treat our own species with respect. How the hell are animals (especially the delicious ones) ever going to get such treatment?

Stop cruelty to animals? Sure, right after I shut down all coal burning factories, drop Bush in a cell in Brussells and convince every major banker on Wall Street of the evils of neoliberal economics. Oh, and lead a black-clad ninja army to victory against the Janjaweed.

NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

Not being adverse to a friendly chat, I will sometimes take the opportunity to discuss the various issues/products that are being presented. On this occasion however, I was in a bit of a hurry and had a whole bunch of paperwork on my mind that I needed to get sorted out before getting back to the office. So I kept walking, shrugged and said "Sorry, no thanks".

"I like your jacket", she calls out.

Fzzzt! A spanner immediately jams down into the gears of the machine. My jacket? What the hell is she talking about?
I turn around, to view a semi-sarcastic smile on her face. Her eyes are darting somewhere between mischevious and coldly aloof. My mind is still trying to catch up, snapping into place from what seems like light-years away. Unfortunately my mouth doesn't wait for it to properly engage before taking the initiative.

"My jacket? Yeah, it's leather."

They freeze. Seconds begin to tick by. Lacking any further external shock, the machine grinds back into action again and I briskly turn around and stride off back up the street. Then my mind catches up.

Mind: "Excuse me... what the hell was that?"
Body: "I don't know. I'm just trying to get you from place to place."
Mind: "But what you said didn't really make sense!"
Body: "So? I was just responding to close the conversation down. Thinking isn't what I'm here for".
Mind: "You realise you just made a trite observation about your leather jacket to an animal rights activist?"
Body: "Hey... that's a good point!"
Mind: "She might possibly have been offended by this."
Body: "Well, she brought it up."
Mind: "True. Perhaps she was offended just by me wearing the jacket?"
Body: "Like I said, thinking isn't what I'm here for. How about you do the thinking, and I'll get you back to the car? Deal?"
Mind: "Ok, but I'm going to need to review all the perceptual data from this."
Body: "Fair enough. Make sure you get the Heart's input too."
Mind: "Ok, fine... but those blasted emotions tend to skew up my analysis."
Body: "I'm sure you'll work it out."

So, there I am walking back up the road with my head spinning. Mostly, it was spinning because I couldn't place the initial comment. Was she being sarcastic? Having a jab at some insensitive cowhide-wearing male because I had brushed off "the cause" with no thought whatsoever? Was she trying to raise my awareness? Make me see that my jacket came at the cost of an animal's life? Or did she just "like my jacket"? But since when do Street Hawkers pay any further attention to you once you're already walking away? I don't think I was being rude when I said "Sorry, no thanks". Was there something in my voice? Something that gave away that I felt their cause to be an utter waste of time given the precarious state this planet is in right now?

One shouldn't express this kind of thing - after all, they weren't asking for my opinion. I had tried not to, and thought I had succeeded. I wonder, how did I look through their eyes?

These thoughts, and more, circled and cycled through my mind for the next couple of hours. No conclusions were reached. But how is it possible to come to a conclusion when I don't understand my own reactions, let alone hers?

"Know Thyself", the saying goes. It's a lot trickier than one might first expect.

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