I was standing outside of the Starbucks in Chinatown, observing the hordes of people with hawkish determination. Summer in Chinatown offers that wonderful cross-section of angry businessperson, flustered tourist, and bored teenager that can make city life so infuriating. But with all the people milling around, I was in prime canvassing ground.
I spent that summer fundraising for a nonprofit, like any politically active college student strapped for cash and living in a major metropolitan area.
And I was not good at this job. People tend to not respond well to dry, sarcastic requests for donations. This is an example of a recommended dialogue between a canvasser and her target:
“Hi! Will you help me fight global poverty? GREAT! That’s fantastic! Here are some devastating statistics. Will you help me change the world today with a pledge of $20 a month? WONDERFUL!” I was required to repeat all of this in a sunny, upbeat tone. You have not truly experienced an uncomfortable silence until you’ve talked about maternal death rates in sub-Saharan Africa with a smile on your face.
Now try maintaining that level of perverse peppiness all day long.
After getting blown off by several people in a row, with abrasive shouts of– “I don’t have time!” or– “Not again!” something rare happened. I was approached.
The woman was middle-aged, perhaps early 50s, with blonde hair in a high ponytail. She was somewhere between average and slightly overweight, but her pale pink turtleneck did nothing to flatter her figure. The turtleneck was paired with a matching pale pink tweed skirt and white Mary Janes. I believe she was wearing tights, despite the heavy August air. My eyes fell on the gold cross, draped carefully over the front of her sweater, and I knew I had a chance.
“What are you fundraising for?” the woman asked. I immediately started to give her my spiel about global poverty, infusing as much genuine energy into it as I possibly could.
She let me say my piece. Then she said, “You know, I don’t really think it’s safe for a girl to be out in the city alone.” I bit my lip to keep from rudely interrupting. “You should try reaching out to churches in the suburbs.”
We’re not a religious organization, I explained, choosing to ignore the first part of her claim. I made the pitch again, trying to bring the conversation back to the campaign. I even promised that I would take her suggestion about churches to my boss.
“I don’t make financial decisions without consulting my husband,” she replied, her voice sugary sweet.
My jaw fell open in disbelief, but I regained my footing and continued pushing. I pulled out some of my best statistics—meaning, of course, the worst and most horrible ones, flying through data on global lack of food and water, women’s rights, children with no access to education. Although she seemed sympathetic, she would not budge.
“I would be happy to take your information home to my husband and talk it over with him,” she offered.
If she donated later, it would not count towards my quota, and that was unacceptable.
Exasperated and realizing this perfect target was slipping away, I gave her one last plea. While I spoke, an unmarked white van pulled up to the curb. Before ascending into her cult mobile, she turned to me and placed a hand on my arm.
“You really should consider accepting Jesus into your heart,” she informed me. Then she got into the van and drove away.
I did not accept Jesus into my heart, and I did not meet my quota that day.
A few weeks later, I was paired up outside of the Barnes and Noble in Bethesda with my coworker Heather. Getting placed in Bethesda for the day is kind of like getting a free pass. I have one thing to say: wealthy stay-at-home moms.
We stood facing each other at the corner, able to get people coming from either direction. It had been a slow day, but we were in the shade and I had revved myself up with three espresso shots in my morning overpriced coffee drink. I was ready.
A BMW convertible pulled up to the street and parked illegally, and my eyes lit up: expendable income. The driver, a graying man in khakis, stepped out and started walking in my direction.
“Hi!” I said brightly. “Will you help fight global poverty today?”
The man stopped, but the expression on his face quickly transformed from agreeable to sneering. “Are you guys Democrats?” he asked. He asked it not as a question, but an accusation, as if he were saying, “You guys are Democrats.”
“We’re non-partisan!” I said, with the optimism and energy of a parakeet on cocaine.
He took a good look at me, then a look at Heather, and laughed. He went straight into Barnes and Noble, and I rolled my eyes, but let it go. On the scale of rejections, that had been pretty gentle.
About fifteen minutes later, he came out of the store and approached us. He handed me a thin book, then walked over to Heather and handed her one as well. All he said was, “Enjoy,” and got back in his car.
The book he had purchased for both of us was Common Sense by Glenn Beck.
The list price on Common Sense was $12.95, meaning he spent four more dollars than I would have asked him for. All I’m saying is, I don’t think that’s sound economic policy.
And while I have yet to read it, I have found that Common Sense makes an excellent coaster.