In a month’s time, I’ve been approached on the street by strangers and asked about my cologne-wearing habits twice. It had never come up in the other 26.6 years of my life, so you can see how it might’ve caught me off guard. The first time, a girl spotted me and simply asked, y
“Do you wear cologne?”
“No,” I said, “I smell this amazing naturally. AND I’m single.” Oh wait, no I’m not. Come to think of it, that’s not even what I said, but it would’ve been nice.
And so it ended as unassumingly as it had begun, with neither trial nor tribulation. “Odd,” I thought as I slunk along. “I always thought cologne was reserved for Persian men with ultra-geometrical facial hair.” And I’m more of the scraggly Israelite.
The second encounter was just today. A gorgeous day on any number of levels, little could I have expected that lurking in the shrubs would be another cologne salesperson, this time of the notably less convincing male varietem.
I was retrieving my bicycle from where I had locked it (4th and Ellisworth, right smack in the middle of what I like to call the “Delicious District”), when I noted that the sidewalk was exceptionally crowded–even for a Saturday crowd–meaning I couldn’t just leap onto my bike and sidewalk-cycle my way to the next intersection. I guess that’s what I get for parking in front of like five Chinese restaurants.
So I began walking my bicycle, carefully weaving through the crowd, when suddenly one of the men in the crowd–the sole white man–locked his gaze on me and poised himself for an aggressive encounter. He stood in my path and gestured as if to say, “Booga-booga-booga”.
Perhaps he’s confused, I thought. This suspicion was confirmed when he started asking me about cologne. Maybe my being fully dressed caused him to mistake me for a target consumer, but I’ve always been told you won’t find happiness in a bottle, and I think that holds doubly true for charm.
“Hi, do you wear cologne?” he asked. The question was so out of the blue that I misheard it at first: “Hi, do you work alone?” In retrospect, that would’ve been an even stranger question. What product would elicit such an introduction? Some kind of a helper bot? Or–if you will–a Servbot? If that had been the case, his spotting skills would’ve been uncanny, because I’m probably more interested in obtaining a Servbot than anyone else in all of San Mateo.
But not cologne.
“No,” I said.
“Not any?” he persisted. I know salesmen have to push and push and push, but wasn’t the word any already implied the first time he asked me? Like after asking me a second time I’m going to be like, “Oh, well if you phrase it that way, yes, yes I do wear cologne. See, when you asked me if I wear cologne, I thought you were asking if I douse myself in it. If you just mean the normal amount required to smell nice, then yes. Sorry for the mix-up, and to prove that I’m sorry, I’d like to buy a bunch of the cologne you’re selling, which I will then apply to my neck or wristal regions, because–as we’ve now established–I do wear some cologne. Now that the question’s been clarified.”
On the other hand, that was when I finally realized he was asking me about cologne and not about my working conditions. So I suppose he’s got a defense.
“No,” I said.
He began pointing his finger. I tried to follow the imaginary dotted line emerging from it. Was he pointing to my bicycle? My lunch? My groin?
“What is that?” he said. “TSR?”
“Uhhhhhhhh. . . . ”
“Is it TSR?”
It occurred to me that he was talking about the shopping bag I held in my left hand. It contained a Lost Planet 2 strategy guide (that game is the shit). I still don’t know what “TSR” is.
“No,” I said.
“World of Warcraft?”
Okay: What the fuck, cologne guy? Part of me wants to slap the Reverse Culture Shock label on this scenario, but something tells me this is just Random Salesman on the Street Shock, and that normal, decent Americanfolk don’t usually do this. In Japan, people are private enough about their possessions that bookstores actually wrap customers’ books in nondescript covers so the customers can read on public transit without fear of others knowing what they’re reading about. And while that may well be straddling the line between “private” and “paranoid”, I think that even in America, it’s a little inappropriate for the random salesman on the street to start insisting you recite to him contents of your bearings.
Realizing that this was his last-ditch attempt to relate to the customer and reel me back in, I grew annoyed. And not just on one level, but in a rich, multi-layered tapestry of annoyance.
For one thing, that’s nosey. I mean Jesus Christ, man, why don’t you just ask me to drop my pants and underwear for you?! I mean, what if I had been carrying porn in there?! Or a copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You”?! I’ve known you for all of ten seconds and you’ve filled the entirety of those ten seconds with the savage flinging of poo in a desperate attempt to strike upon what kind of consumer I am. You’re not my “bro”, and if you were, you wouldn’t be trying to sell me cologne.
And another thing: I don’t know what “TSR” is, but I sure don’t like being pegged for a World of Warcraft player, and especially not when I’m on a crowded street (even if it is all Chinese people). You know the old adage, “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me”? Well, as I stood there in broad daylight, being accused loudly and openly of carrying a “World of Warcraft” thing, I realized that that adage held true as never before. I felt like an ass. I felt like he was an ass. But being a street salesman, he seemed to have already accepted his role. It wasn’t at all unlike a suicide bombing.
“No,” I said. “Sorry.” I then thrust out my right hand. “I wanna thank you, ” I said.
“You’ve given me some writing fodder for my blog!”
“Oh yeah? What do you write about?”
“Weird shit that happens to me on the street.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, have a fragrant day.”
Years later, he would be spotted on another street asking another passerby if he had the time. “No,” the passerby would say, and the salesman would respond, “Not any?” which would confuse the passerby to the point that he would not notice the oncoming truck as he crossed the next street, ultimately resulting in his death. The salesman would give his testimony to the police, describing the deceased as “probably into paintball or yachting, judging by the looks of him.”