We all know them. People who rarely smile. People whose mouths naturally turn downwards. People who gripe, complain, and disapprove most of the time and have the face to match. I’m talking about sour pusses.
We’ve all run into them, and it’s hard not to take their behavior personally. Michelle and I were out for dinner with some good friends once, and the gal who cleared our table was a harsh woman who quickly swiped our table, slapped down some menus and snarled, “Your waitress will be right with you.” No pleasantries.
Our friend sitting across the table, a person who shares my wickedness from time to time, looked at us and said, “Wow. I almost asked her if she was mad at me.”
I’ve told you before that I moved to this part of the country about 25 years ago and was a little shocked at some of the folks I ran across. Where I come from, my hometown’s nickname is “Home of Friendly People.” Most folks wouldn’t dream of passing you on a country road without waving or walk past you on the street or in a hallway without making eye contact and smiling or speaking.
When I was a new teacher, I was amazed at the number of folks at school who would walk right past you and not acknowledge you. I mentioned it to some folks. Some cited “the German influence.” Some mentioned low self-esteem. One colorful gentleman told me “There’s a lot of rude S.O.B’s in this town.”
Still, it was hard to adjust. After a while, I began to make it a sport. I’d force people to say “hello.” I would see them coming and I’d shoot a pleasantry at them before they knew what hit them.
I found we often have to make the first move. Now, I’m not always the friendliest person in the world. Sometimes I just want to get my business done and move on. But I have always tried to be reasonably pleasant. I’ve tried to exhibit good manners.
I wrote my first column about “mean people,” and in that column, I wrote about an older gal named Rose. She was perhaps the sourest of the sourest. I had never met anyone like her. Rose was not pleasant at all and I was immediately afraid of her when I met her.
We worked together at a department store, and I remember getting introduced to her. The head cashier said “Rosie, this is Mark.” Rose didn’t even look at me. She looked over at the cashier and said, “He won’t be here long.”
For a long time, I avoided Rose. I once asked her about a price check and I thought she hadn’t heard me. She stared at me and shook her head. I never asked her for help again.
Then one day, after I had worked there a while, I was upset about a customer and decided to vent my frustration in the break room. At the time, I thought no one but me and my buddy from the sporting goods department were in the break room.
I went on and on about this pesky customer and how much I hated waiting on them. I probably said some colorful things I shouldn’t have said. I was around 19 at the time.
All of a sudden, I heard some low giggling from the back corner of the break room. I turned around and there was Rosie, sitting in the far corner of the “smoking area” (she didn’t smoke). The lights were off. There she sat, eating crackers and giggling at our conversation.
I was a little mortified that Rose heard the conversation. I got up my nerve and said “You think that’s funny, Rose?”
She just kept giggling and shaking her head. I still wasn’t sure if she liked me or not.
Later that evening as we were closing up the store, I saw her coming down the aisle toward me. I was straightening up a shelf. I heard her giggling again and all of sudden; she gave me a pop on the butt.
I told you, I sometimes have a wicked sense of humor. “Well Rosie, are you flirting with me?”
She whirled around, “After hearing your mouth run in the lounge earlier, I decided your mama didn’t give you enough whippins when you were little.” And off she went.
After that, Rosie and I were best friends. I could joke with her. She even brought me a little birthday present once: a ballpoint pen with a goofy little monster on the pen cap. It was about a quarter in the clearance aisle.
“Happy birthday. Now quit borrowing my damn pens all the time,” she said with a gruff voice. I had long since recognized that little twinkle in her eye. I almost cried as I held that ugly little pen in my hand.
I learned a lot about Rosie in the years I worked with her. I suppose she had had some heartache in her life. She remained grouchy and blunt for as long as I knew her.
Her familiar greeting to me was “Here comes trouble.” A more endearing comment was “You look like you’re up to no good again.”
But I finally did ask her one day about that comment when we first met. What had she meant when she told the head cashier I wouldn’t be here long?
She sized me up and began to laugh. “Well, I just thought somebody as good lookin’ as you would be put out on the floor somewhere.”
I never could tell if she was feeding me a line or if she was sincere. However, that was the closest thing to a compliment I had ever gotten from her.
I don’t know whatever happened to Rosie, but I remember her letting me give her a big hug when I left the store. I’m sure she told me to “behave myself” and probably gave me another pop on the butt.
But in honor of Rosie and all the others, I hope you’ll get out your “Hug a Sour Puss” button and wear it proudly.
You never know. You might just find a pretty fun person underneath all that sourness.