Friday, September 11, 2009

Say it to my face, but make it quick

There are two kinds of clipboards. The kind my boyfriend likes using to interview celebrities and festival goers, which attract 5-minute fame-seekers like free money, and the kind I've been issued for my new temporary job, which makes even grown men jump into traffic-heavy streets to avoid me.

That's the power I wield.

Since I have to work a student job for modest pay to stay afloat, despite having first graduated in the not-so-auspicious year 2000, until I find something better (wish me luck with my phone interview tomorrow), I suppose it's fortunate to have found one that comes with a superpower.

Given the choice, I'd have gone for the ability to fly, or to speak and understand every language of the world, but the power of repulsion is fascinating all the same.

Each morning in the blustery streets of London, I don a bright blue T-shirt emblazoned with UNICEF across my chest, hang the laurel of my ID badge around my neck, and tuck my clipboard as discreetly as possible under my arm, and become my alter-ego: The Bane of Your Existence.

I am a charity fundraiser for United Nations Children's Fund. And I am loathed.

Here, street fundraisers are also known as 'chuggers', short for 'charity muggers', and to be sure, some have earned the slander. I've been backed up against a post box, desperate for escape from an aggressive, toothy street fundraiser, and that's never made me sign up for anything. But my company has a strict no guilt, no pressure, no cornering and absolutely no flirting policy, so I have to use charm and logic to counter my unfortunate superpower, and that's really hard work in a city known for little eye contact or warmth of any kind.

So like a monkey, I dance. My sister calls it 'the dork dance', and it's the only thing I've come up with that makes even busy Londoners smile, even those who just really want to rant about charities overdoing their fundraising, the Credit Crunch, inept children who refuse to move out, student loans, medical bills, wives and husbands, having been declared legally insane, Gordon Brown, immigration, unwanted pregnancy and conspiracy theories. I haven't heard it all, but I expect I will by the end of today when I finish another shift at Brighton Pier.

Sure I look like an idiot, but amid the flow of thousands of people, I can easily slip into the shell of merciful anonymity - anonymity being London's only guarantee.

Thinking back to my early years studying Cultural Anthropology, as far as observation goes, I'm in a really good position. With license to speak to anyone, any trace of a stereotype I'd brought along was blown to bits in the first hour, though I'll admit seedlings of new ones are taking their place. Women, for example, can be very scary people. Old people aren't necessarily nice people. Saying 'good morning' is just as likely to receive a Big F as a 'good morning' in return. And the average Londoner is a terrible actor.

Just as I spot prospective donors 5 metres away, they spot me. Commonly, they'll pull a mobile phone out and fake a conversation, without bothering to turn it on. I'm both flattered that they'll go to so much effort to avoid having me say 'hello', and offended they think my powers of observation are so weak. In quieter areas, my presence parts the sea of pedestrians. They'll climb over bicycles, squeeze around lamp posts and dodge traffic to avoid me.

And then there are the runners.

While there are fewer, they're the best. These maintain composure until the very last moment, and then sprint just a little way. Just enough to get past me. Sometimes I feel like the oracle from that children's movie The Neverending Story, wondering, maybe even hoping I really might be able to zap those not true of heart with my laser eyes.

Some choose partial blindness and simply close their eyes while they walk past me. "I can still see you," I say with the same lilt I use when I play hide-and-seek with children who haven't quite figured out that you need to hide your whole body, and not just your head.

Others simply unload. They see my smile and 'hello' as an invitation to vent all their frustrations and disturbingly common racist views, and while I understand how this might happen when dealing with the general public, "F*ck you!' never really feels like an acceptable response to 'good morning', no matter what I might be wearing.

So, thankfully it's Friday, and I can come home and relax with all the reasons I have for enduring this sort of treatment: Friends, love and a new, albeit challenging, life in London.

That, and the fact that UNICEF really does do good work for children.


miss. chief said...

oh my! hilarious!

i am totally a "i'm listening to music and iii cannnn't seee youuuu" person

i'll just walk on by.

Kate Savage said...

miss. chief - Fair enough! I would be, too! And it's far cooler than pretending to answer your phone!

Gabii Costa said...

so funny :D

I loved you blog!

p.s :good luck ;D

wyliekat said...

I know that telling you what great fodder this is won't help in the slightest, but man. This is great fodder.


Kate Savage said...

Gabii Costa - THANKS! And, i'll take that luck you're offering. Feels like I need it!

wyliekat - Oh but it does. When things start doing really, really wrong, I think about my blog. I can handle anything, in the name of my blog! PLENTY more stories to come...

wyliekat said...

@ Kate - I have always loved that my blog always makes me find the funny, no matter how unfunny anything feels at a given moment.

Meg O said...

Thanks for making me laugh out loud. I feel your pain, agree with the cause and can picture the reactions. You might as well be holding a cardboard sign and plastic cup. Dance monkey, dance! Keep on keeping on.

Ron said...

You have such a great gift for telling a story - very funny!

And I so admire you, because I know doing what you do cannot be easy. But it sounds to me that you have such a great attitude. Humor!

Kate Savage said...

wyliekat - And it most recently got me through a day at being underpaid at a festival sponsored by Gaydar Radio.


Meg O - Hey, if I can make you laugh, I am more than happy to spend 7 hours in the rain asking for charity from disheartened Londoners! And once again, I. AM. NOT. JOKING.

Coming back here after a long day of doing exactly this, well, it really does make it worth it.


Ron - And thanks so much for the encouragement. Life is meant to be a comedy, I think. Sometimes it's just a little harder to find the punchline...

noelle said...

I have to echo the other comments - you have a brilliant way of making any situation comedic. Ever thought of going into sitcom writing??

Oh yeah, I am definitely one of those people who pull out the phone and pretend I'm having a very tragic conversation to not only avoid the harassment, but to garner pity as well. I'm awful, huh?