Originally posted October 15, 2010...
Full time isn’t really full time where I work. One of my jobs claims to have me as a full time staffer, but as such I only receive twenty eight hours a week, or therabouts. Twenty eight isn’t a lot, but it means I’m there about four days a week for several hours at a time, and I’m worked there since March in a staff of about
fifteen. Therefore it would be really top-drawer if my boss knew who in the hell I was.
My boss is foreign born, but her thick accent and pretend struggles with syntax don’t hide the fact that every day she wonders who this kid is walking around with a uniform on like he works there. She calls him Steven, often Micheal, sometimes John. It’s like she has a pocket dictionary of generic white guy names that she whips out whenever she sees me. I finally called her on it the other day and she apologized and laughed a hearty, foreign laugh. “Oh, oh James, I do this to you all time, no? So sorry, happens too much, yes? You, I don’t remember but I should! You have a certain… nothing about you.” Cold diss, boss lady.
And this happens to me all the time! Jon’s academic friends were the worst offenders. I don’t know if keeping your mind on your thesis prevents you from remembering names and faces or maybe it just makes you a butthole, but none of these people remembered me from one smart guy gathering to the next.
The other day I ran into a gal who lives in my building who gave me no look of recognition whatsoever. I smiled heartily and said, “I’ll see you later, I’m sure!” And she laughed, but in a really uncomfortable way that made me think she was drawing blanks. And how awful for her if she was! Can you imagine? Some total stranger waves at you and says, “I’ll see you later, I’m sure?” You’d probably worry he was a serial killer. So you’d call the cops, they’d ask for a description, you’d try to remember some detail about me… and not be able to recall anything.
Dream: Make a really strong first impression.
Goal: Achievable. Strong first impressions aren’t only desirable, they’re necessary. Every industry is cut-throat, every relationship potentially important, one must stand out to succeed. After all, even if you’re one in a million, in this Big City’s population, there’s two and a half people exactly like you.
Plan: Determine what works with others and like a white rap artist, co-opt these traits for my gain. So to make a strong first impression, I could do or be one of the following:
A better dresser. My usual uniform of jeans and a hoodie from Old Navy’s NonDescript line don’t make me stand out in a crowd. The other day this woman came in to the store where I work in sharp business attire, a she wore a matching skirt and jacket that had been clearly tailored to her. She also wore an old timey widow’s hat with a veil. Do you know the one I mean? That stupid mini-beekeeper hat old black ladies wear to church in the movies? And everybody commented on it after she left. “Did you see what she was wearing?” they all said. “How memorable!” And I said, “She looks like she just came from JFK’s funeral!” And nobody laughed because what a stupid reference. This brings me to my second strategy.
Be funny, but in a dumb, non-offensive, Two and a Half Men kind of way. When you ask someone to name their favourite qualities in a mate or friend, they will invariably say that a strong sense of humour is key. While that may be true, comedians don’t seem to have a lot of friends. Sense of humour is important, but type of humour is key. I bombed (and I mean really bombed, like no laughs at all) during a stand up gig recently with the following joke: “I was reading a new study that found that fat men were more likely to survive car crashes then thin men! Isn’t that interesting? However, thin men are still more likely to survive into their sixties.” Ba-dum-bum! Nothing. Crickets. Not my best joke, and really quite offensive, but… I thought it was funny! Compare this caustic dark joke to a guy in line at my till the other day. We’d recently installed new phones in a different spot from the old phones at our tills. Mine started to ring while I was bagging someone’s items. I thought I could bag the items with one hand and put the phone on hold with the other, but I couldn’t. I tried to pick up the phone, it fell from my hand, I dropped the bag of groceries on the counter and the phone fell to the floor with a loud bang. A guy in line said, “Uh..it’s for you!” And everybody laughed! At that stupid shit.
Be flirty. Now, I should preface this by saying I have no desire or intention to start up any kind of dalliance with another person. I am quite happily partnered and plan to stay so for the long haul. That said, I love the ego boost that comes from being ever-so-slightly flirted with. Anytime someone is a little smiley, or complimentary for no reason, I get all flushed and pleased with myself. When I tossed a buck in for a charity drive at the store the other day and the girl behind the counter said, “Thank you sooo much! You’re awesome!” I thought, “Yes. I am awesome.” But sometimes it doesn’t work. After buying beer for Jon and raspberry gay coolers for me, I was picking up something at the grocery store when the girl behind the counter said, “Oh my god, that’s my favourite beer! I, like, love it! How much was it?” All the while leaning forward and playing with her hair and grinning. I became so flummoxed at this obvious flirtation that I stammered, “I don’t know! It’s not for me!” and left.
It’s disheartening to realize I meet most people without thinking about how I present myself. I probably come off dumpy and stringy haired and awkward. And unlike Susan Boyle I’m not going to bust out something from Phantom to knock your socks off. Most people, like your boss and your neighbours, you end up seeing again several times anyway. But some, like the flirty girl at the grocery store, you lose forever. That’s the trouble with impressions: you only get your first one once.