Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Petition

I listen to a lot of books on CD in my car. Sometimes it feels like cheating, but when it’s a book that I really need to pay attention to and just can’t get a decent chunk of time to sit down and read it, this is a good option. I get a lot of these books from the library. The Phoenix Downtown Library is HUGE. It’s got five floors and lots of books on CD (a great writing section too). It’s the perfect way to spend my lunch half hour.
One day last week, I’d gone to pick up a copy of Charlie Wilson’s War (a book I couldn’t even get through on CD—politics is just not my thing. It’s like football—goes right over my head.). As I was leaving the library, I was halted by one of many solicitors. I always see a homeless person or two asking for change and usually people trying to get me to donate to some cause. Today, it was a petition.
“’Scuse me ma’am, could I have just a moment of your time.”
I eye him suspiciously, but stop. After all, I don’t want to be rude.
“I’m collecting signatures for this petition.”
“I’m not a registered voter.” This is a lie. My dad physically FORCED me to register when I was 18. I’m determined not to vote (the subject for another entry) and therefore have never registered in another state. As far as I know, my Missouri registration is intact.
“Oh, well that’s ok. You can just sign saying that I presented this to you.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a petition to support expansion of pedestrian walk ways. Safer sidewalks near schools and busy intersections.”
“I’m not sure I’d support that.”
“You wouldn’t?”
“Maybe not.”
“Well, don’t you want safe walkways?”
“Sure, but how much does it cost.” This is a question my mother-in-law taught me to ask. Someone has to pay for these things. Money does not magically appear.
“Well, see, that’s on a need to know basis.”
“Ha! Well, guess what? Before I sign anything, I need to know.”
He’s getting frustrated. I can tell.
“Look, I’m just trying to collect signatures. This is how I earn my paycheck.”
I’m still skeptical. “So, signing this just means that you told me about the petition?”
“Ok, I’ll sign.” I sign where he tells me and then—
“And I just need your address here.”
“Oh no—I don’t want to give my address. I don’t want any mail.”
“Oh, we’re not sending mail.”
“Then why do you need my address?”
He says nothing.
“Look, I work in direct mail. I know how this goes.”
“Ok, well just put your last address.”
“Ok.” I start writing my last legal address. He’s watching and I can tell he doesn’t recognize Downers Grove.
“Is that Arizona?”
“No. It’s Illinois.”
He’s exasperated now.
“Hey, I warned you!” I said. “This is my last legal address.”
“Well, just use your local and put it off by one number.”
“You’re asking me to falsify a document?”
“No!” He’s panicking now. I’m trying not to laugh. “Look, just put something down.”
I do what he asks, signing my name five or six times, more or less illegibly. I’m starting to feel sorry for him.
“You’re really earning your paycheck today,” I say.
“Man, you’re not kidding! I deserve a break after this!”
I’m chuckling as I walk away. He wishes me a nice afternoon. I’ll certainly have one. This was so worth the fifteen minutes or so it took.


El said...

That's a great story. Wouldn't it have been easier to just not make eye contact and brush by? Or perhaps say "no thanks" and not stop.

Sometimes rudeness is a matter of perspective. He was just doing his job, but why should that be up in your world?

"Sure guy, do your job... Just don't involve me."

No good deed goes unpunished.

Robin E. Olson said...

True, but it was so fun watching him squirm.