An Average Interaction in the Life of an Unemployed University Graduate.
I stand in the entrance of our towns’ public library, studying their iconic lobby wall. Made up of thousands of wooden blocks featuring pieces of artwork created by a New York artist, alongside contributions from members of the community, it was built into the “new” library when I was a child.
Okay, I’ll fess up. I’m not studying the wall at all. I am trying not to look like a loitering youth while waiting for my sister to join me. I freeze my face in what I hope is a look of thoughtful contemplation, and out of the corner of my eye, see a woman look directly at me as she walks over.
She stops a few feet away and turns to face the same wall.
She has long straight black hair and an easy smile, and I guess her background is Japanese. With her cap-sleeved patterned blouse and her knee-length dark red skirt, everything about her demeanor screams “business”. She looks like she should have a laminated nametag perfectly clipped onto her silky shirt. Not a preppy Princeton academic or a wealthy eccentric. Not a student. Not a tourist. Entirely average but still out of place somehow in this environment.
“Quite the wall.” A simple opening statement.
“Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Lots to look at for sure!” I reply, fairly certain that this bland comment made in passing will be our only interaction.
“I wonder who designed it.” I’m a bit surprised at the follow-up.
“Yeah. Not sure. I know my sister has a tile in here somewhere…” I pretend to look around. I know exactly where the tile is, but I’m fairly certain that this conversation isn’t really about the wall. I’m sure if I wait long enough, I’ll find out what she wants.
“I guess a lot of locals participated,” I end my lame attempt at an answer.
Now that there’s been a preamble, I sense she’s going to cut to the chase.
“Are you a student here?” She means Princeton University, of course.
“No, not a student anymore. Graduated last year, and I’m just back living at home, looking for work.”
“What kind of work?” Most people ask this politely, but her query has a purpose. I guess what’s coming next.
“Nonprofit”. I keep the answer short. How many times have I been asked this question in the past year? I no longer feel like expanding upon it, or justifying my choice.
“I work for a company that’s always looking to hire new talent. Public speaking…training…helping people to protect themselves…insurance fraud…legal…”
I hear the jumble of words thrown together and emerge from the sentence with no clear idea of what kind of work this woman actually does. I guess that she’s trying to make mundane work sound more tempting, and is carefully selecting buzzwords that appeal to my stated career preference.
As my sister silently sidles up next to me, the woman holds her blocky handbag open with her right hand and searches through it with her left. Quickly – with a practiced movement – she pulls out her business card.
After a brief, polite glance, I put her card directly into my purse.
“I’ll definitely send you an email, thanks.”
When I do look later, I finally discover exactly what she was representing (or perhaps misrepresenting): “Identity theft protection for one low monthly fee” the card proclaims in overbearing letters on one side. Her smiling face greets me on the reverse, alongside her information. She’s an independent associate. I don’t know what that means.
She asks for my card in return. I am much less practiced and fumble around the side pocket of my purse, then in my wallet before I am able to hand over my extremely sparse card. One sided, my name takes up an exorbitant amount of room and is surrounded by a daunting amount of white space.
She reads the name aloud: “Lucy”. Pause. She studies the card. “And how do you pronounce your last name?”
“D’Sant-O,” I say clearly.
“Lovely. So nice to meet you” She informs me of her name.
I’ve already forgotten it by the time I respond warmly, “And you,” with a conversation-closing smile.
We shake hands. Her grip is weak, but her eye contact is direct and her smile genuine. There may be little mutual interest here, but we’re willing to practice this ritual on one another.
With this, she walks out one door and I give my sister an, “I have no idea what just happened” look as we walk in the opposite direction. Time to leave the twilight zone and go for coffee.
So perhaps this instance wasn’t fate, but it gave me hope nonetheless that chance meetings can change your life in a second if you let them. And of course, if the person who approaches you isn’t selling the dream of preventing insurance scams in Pennsylvania.