For the last 10 years of my professional life, human interaction was mostly confined to emotional pet owners, and there is never a dull moment with emotional pet owners. Now at my new job, I work with the public. Human interaction with the public is a whole new category of never-a-dull-moment. I often try to see the world through Leslie Knope’s eyes when she said of the public, “These people are members of the community who care about where they live. So what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”
I work at a farmers market, and part of my job is to talk to potential vendors and either approve them to be a part of the market or decline them and crush their dreams. You make organic and locally sourced artisan bread? Sure, welcome to the market! You’re a local farmer to wants to sell produce that you’ve grown by hand that very week? We will make all the room you need. You want to perform wedding ceremonies for veterans and their mail order brides? I don’t know what that’s all about but you can take it somewhere else. I love meeting passionate, talented people and work with them on a daily basis.
Today I spoke with an artist, about 6’4, seven, maybe eight pounds, who makes art out of recycled glass. Very cool stuff and a very talented guy. I spoke with him about preparing to become a vendor and about scheduling his market days. He asked several practical questions such as, “How do I know where to set up my booth?” and, “How and when do I make my rent payment?” Then he asked, “Because it is an outdoor market, do I need to bring a canopy tent for shade?”
I told him that for the majority of the day the sun only hits the booths along the north end of the market area. I recommended requesting a booth space along the south end if he was concerned about the sun.
He nodded and said, “How old are you?”
My face must have betrayed the “What the fuck?” I said in my head because he said, “Oh I’m sorry, did I offend you?”
I said, “You didn’t offend me, I just don’t know what that has to do with the information I’m giving you.”
He said, “I’m just wondering if you’re old enough to know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Never ever in the north and south.”
I said, “Yes, I understand that, I’m just saying that there is shade on the-”
He cut me off and said, “Do you really understand? I ask because I need to know that you really understand.”
I said,”I do indeed understand where the sun rises and sets in the sky.”
He said, “Well, that may be true, but I am an expert on the sun. I wake up every morning at 5:30 and I pray facing the east. The east. Where the sun rises. I always know where the east is. Did you know that you can use the sun to get directions? Like when you get lost in the wilderness and you don’t have any fancy GPS or cell phone technology. You can look at the sun and find your way home.
I said, “…Okay! So if you’re on the north end of the shed-”
He cut me off again. He said, “I’ve been to a lot of festivals in my day. I grew up in the sixties. You know, free love?” I feel like now is a good time to mention that his teenage daughter was standing directly behind him for this entire conversation, giggling.
“How old are you?” he repeated.
I said, ” I am 34 years old. Can I put you on the schedule for tonight’s market?” I was both desperate for this conversation to end, and desperate for him to say more things.
He said, “Oh you’re 34, huh? You’re almost old enough to do it for me!” (whatever the hell that meant)(no speculations, please). Then he started talking about festivals again when it came back around to, “The sun does not set in the north!”
He made a point that I could not logically argue with, so I said, “Yes, you should probably bring a tent.”
He decided he would, indeed, start at the market that evening, so I told him to find my coworker Andy when he arrived.
He said, “Cool, cool. Thank you, dear. What’s his name again? George?”
I said, “That’s right, his name is Andy, and he will be at the information booth to let you know where to set up.”
He stared in silence for a moment before saying, “Is Andy a black dude or white boy?” In reality, Andy is Asian but I declined to answer this man’s question. I said go to the information booth and ask for Andy. He thanked me for the information and went on his way.
The owner of the farmers market, whom we see very often, happened to be in the other room while this conversation took place. As I passed by the office where she sat, she said, “Are you sure you fully understand where the sun is?”
I laughed and said, “I dare you to ask him about his time in the wilderness when you see him at the market.”
Her response was, “I’m not doing any of that,” and I went back to work.
My conversation with this man made me completely forget that I was previously having a bad day (that started with my cat peeing in my work bag and went downhill from there.) I can always count on a random member of the public to throw me off my game without even trying. That’s one of the reasons that I love my job.