an open letter to the random old man i passed on the street-corner one morning

Dear random old man I passed on the street-corner one morning,

The morning began like many others: I woke up, ruing the three glasses of wine and four gin and sodas I’d consumed the night before, not to mention the chicken nuggets I’d subsequently drunkenly shame-eaten in my bed. The empty ripped-apart McDonald’s bag lay on the floor, eliciting as much regret as a used condom beside a college girl’s bed the morning after a questionable Tinder date. I pulled myself together best I could and mentally prepared myself for the long day of peddling mediocre vegan food that lay ahead.

I walked the short distance to the streetcar stop on the corner in good time, and waited. And waited. “1 minute away,” my transit app kept promising, but as usual, it was lying. As the minutes ticked by, I glanced at the ominous grey clouds gathering above me; I had been counting on the streetcar to get my hungover ass to work dry and on time, but it seemed that was too big a dream for this small town girl. Accepting defeat, I headed back home. I begrudgingly dragged my bike out the back sliding door, fastened my stylish purple helmet beneath my chin, and kicked off on my unwilling journey.

As I resentfully pedaled down the street, I spotted you out of the corner of my eye. I planned to ignore you, as I do with most pedestrians, but as I passed, you called out, “Smile, young lady!”

I was caught completely off-guard by your comment. Thus, my only response was to look back at you in mild annoyance as I zoomed away. Your expression was one of bewilderment, if not mild offence; Proper young ladies should be smiling, pleasant, and demure at all times, your face seemed to say. She should be thankful she’s even allowed outside! She really should get back to the kitchen and prepare her womb for child-carrying. What an ungrateful swine!

So, let me just break down the reasons why I wasn’t smiling:

  • I was tired and hungover from the night before.
  • I’d originally been planning to take the streetcar to work, because it was supposed to rain and I didn’t want my bike to get wet. Unfortunately, the streetcar was being its typical unreliable self, so I was forced to bike, lest I be late (again).
  • Some asshole at the bar the night before kept insisting that I bear a striking resemblance to Margaret Cho, which offended me on a number of levels.
  • I was fucking biking down the street. Who the fuck bikes down the street with a fucking grin on their face? Serial killers, maybe?

    margaret cho
    What you saw vs. what you wanted to see

With absolutely no due respect, my face is -1000% your business. Do you also shout at random men as they pass you on the street that they should smile? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Women are expected to make themselves look as approachable, attractive, and available as possible at all times, while men are free to leave their face-canvases blank without fear of scrutiny. Science has shown that both men and women are equally prone to Resting Bitch Face, yet being called out for it by strangers is a very womanly experience. You had the gall to tell me to smile whilst actively scowling. I was just trying to get to work on time. I’m very sorry (I’m not actually sorry) if the view of me living my life tarnished your mid-morning stroll.

Look, I’m basically paid to smile at people all day. Even when they ask me questions like “What does squash taste like?” and “Will the Green Detox smoothie give me diarrhea?” It takes a lot of emotional energy to smile in the face of such adversity, but such is the nature of customer service, and hey, a girl’s gotta eat. In any case, I’m not going to waste any additional energy smiling as I’m dodging streetcar tracks and angry drivers who don’t feel like checking their blind spots or putting on their signals before changing lanes. Go find some flowers if you really need to look at something aesthetically pleasing.

You know, now that I think about it, I’m actually very curious what would happen if someone were to go about their entire day, grinning. Personally, if I encountered someone who was alone, walking along, just smiling unfailingly into the abyss, I’d be pretty creeped out and would assume they were, you know, a serial killer.

Anyway, until the magical day comes when men realize that women don’t exist to please their eyes (or penises), we’ll just all have to pull that blood-capsule-in-the-mouth trick I’ve been seeing people talking about on Twitter. Maybe that’ll show you.

Love from,

Margaret Cho

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