“Can you come over here?”
The question came at me from a young frumpy looking blond woman sitting on the corner of Trafalgar and Hardy St. She wore circus pants, held a cardboard box on her lap and for some reason she said she couldn’t stand up right now. I turned and stood over her raising my eyebrows. My eyebrows asked if there was something I could do. She asked something a bit different.
“Do you consider yourself an environmentally friendly person?” My eyebrows dropped. An environmentally friendly person? I would have to think about this one. Am I friendly to the environment? What was that supposed to mean? She looked up at me standing over her and then raised her eyebrows hopefully. I looked up at the sky, pensive for a moment, pondering my friendliness in general. Yes, in general I believe myself to be reasonably friendly, but to the environment specifically? Am I selective with my friendliness? I looked down at her and replied simply:”No.”
She looked a little defeated. Her eyebrows dropped. “Fair enough,” she said. And I continued on my way. Christmas time is a time for charity and if we forget that there are any number of individuals lining Trafalgar St to make sure we remember. This week World Vision from Christchurch has been in Nelson selling the betterment of children living in the Niger. Sounds like a worthy cause, and they are good at making it sound so. I was approached by a nice chap who didn’t ask me a left field question that was supposed to divide the moral from the unworthy. There was no, “Do you care about starving children in Africa?” Instead he introduced himself showed me a picture of a young boy and started his pitch about what the charity hoped to achieve. It was more a conversation than a confrontation. And as I looked around at his other colleagues up and down the street I could see that all three of them were engaged with passersby. One of them was actually quite attractive, which can’t hurt. The sales pitch doesn’t work on everyone. Some cross the road to get away from charity workers. They pretend to be reading text messages, look at their watch, say somthing resembling “sorry, busy” or start searching for that receipt from three years ago that might get them a free cookie from Subway.
I don’t mind talking to charity workers. Of course not everyone who stops you in the street is a charity worker. One of the best salesmen I met was a Hare Krishna. He had a weird haircut, roman sandals and an orange robe, not generally an ensemble that would put you at complete ease. But this chap was simply a conversationalist. He did ask a stupid question to get into it though. “Do you know what grief is?” I thought I am probably about find out. However, he was a really nice guy, shame his product wasn’t something I was that keen on for a Christmas present. Unfortunately for him at that moment in time I did not want to buy a $200 hard cover book explaining the virtues of his religion. Not today. Contrast that with a lady over the weekend at the Cathedral steps who didn’t really seem to be selling anything. Except perhaps my eternal salvation. She just handed me a photocopy of the Ten Commandments and went about her day. I am already reasonably sold on most of those anyway. All the main ones at least. It is speaking to people like the above that makes me think about my own ability to sell something. Looking back on my menial work history I am quite relieved to discover that I have never really sold anything. I have never gone up to someone in a shop and had to ask “can I help?” Or approached someone on the street and asked “do you think you are a good person?” Not that I don’t like sales people, for sure I occasionally like buying things but it is always a little fake and both parties know it. But it is a game we play. It reminded me of my university history professor. He was the type of person who read Freud for kicks, Plato for a party and Aristotle for a laugh. I asked him why he wanted to be an academic. “I just never wanted to sell anything,” he said. The idea I really don’t like are charities that start out polarising you into feeling that if you don’t give $40 a month you will you never be satisfied with your life. I give $40 a month but it is slovenly, I don’t do anything, it’s on automatic payment. That’s not charity, that’s acquiescence. But it least it makes me feel like I am a doing little something for someone else occasionally. Now I never did find out why that frumpy woman asked me that question.