Keep your eyes on the corners at all times. They’ll catch you in an eddy of strolling weekenders, singling you out, because you’re the one who looks people in the eyes.
They pop up out of nowhere. Once they’ve got your attention, you won’t escape without severely disappointing them or feeling guilty to the point of rethinking your reasons for denying them your attention and sympathy.
Some of them ask for your sympathy, or just a minute of your time. Some beg you to rethink, to care, to make judgment about their causes, their problems, their artistic talent.
You’re walking across the street to buy some pens and paper in “Presents of Mind,” a fancy card store next to Starbucks. There aren’t any stationary stores on Hawthorne, just artisanal card stores. They have ballpoint pens with trees and woodpecker designs, and the only plain paper they sell is Mole Skine. Halfway across, you see one standing on the corner outside Starbucks.
The problem is catching their eye. Try not to make eye contact. Make eye contact no more than once. The second glance is the baiter. Third glance, you’re already reeled in and flopping on the deck as they jab at your ears and pound your head to death with their gimmicks and guilt spears. At that point, you have to fight or wait until it’s all over. You’ve listened to their rap CD, signed their petition, written them a check, and put an angry grin on your face.
This guy is good. He has such strong hooking skills, he has himself a fish flopping on his deck as soon as an unassuming loner like you walks by. He catches your eye with a wave.
Sorry! You shake your head.
I just want to ask you a quick question.
Can you count to 30 while listening to my rap CD and tell me—
No. I’m really in a rush.
Where are you headed?
I’m sorry, that’s my business. You look him in the eyes like, don’t make me say it out loud because it’s embarrassing, which is true. No one is ever in a rush to shop at “Presents of Mind.”
So you’re not going to give me the time of day?
You walk three steps away and decide not to go into “Presents of Mind” for obvious reasons.
No one is ever in a rush on Hawthorne. That’s why they’re here. It’s a solicitors spawning ground—a canvasser, busker, artisanal card store swamp. You walk around the corner and loop back around to your car or your bike. Your head wades through a muddy puddle of maybe-I-should-have-said and who-does-he-think-he-is and maybe-he-was-right.
You forget to buy a pen, which you still need, which is why you remember this guy from last weekend when you went to Hawthorne to shop for stationary supplies and now you’re back on Hawthorne on a weekday and there aren’t enough people around to get sucked into their nets, so I’m just saying: keep your eyes on the corners. If you see one, let’s cross the street quickly or both receive important phone calls at the same time or start crying.
No second glances. Look away.