How hard is it to smile? | Mark’s Remarks


I went to a local business office not too long ago. A lot of you must go there from time to time. I will try to be as vague as I can be, but it will be difficult. I’d be interested to know if any of you agree with me or are in the same boat.

This particular business is a place, as I said, that all citizens, especially those of us who like the benefits of transportation, must visit. Usually, I visit in the spring to replace some sticky things on my transportation vessel.

Each time I have gone there over the years, I’ve been amazed at the demeanor of most of the folks who work there. I always go in ready to be talked to by people who seem very downtrodden and unhappy.

Once in a while, I run into at least one happy employee there. I’m so grateful when that happens.

Last time I was there, a very kindly and attractive older lady took my picture and the dazed expression I wear in the picture was due to my astonishment that there could be such a congenial and bubbly person working anywhere near the place.

On my recent visit, I pulled up to the facility and made sure I parked in the right place and went in the right door. There are rules all over this building. I always look for the rule that says something like “Do not smile or be pleasant to the employees. They will not like it.”

There were few cars in the parking lot, but I was amazed at the number of folks who were in the sitting area when I went through the door. I looked at the people waiting; they all seemed unhappy and downtrodden. No one was smiling. Perhaps they had had their transportation vessels taken away for smiling or something.

As I approached the counter to take my number (as I have always done), one of the harsher ladies I’ve dealt with before flashed a look at me, saw some particular forms in my hand, and gruffly told me I did not need a number. She pointed briskly to the line on the other side of the counter. I said “thank you” before remembering that pleasantries were not welcome in this place.

I noticed an older man ahead of me who obviously had many questions about his own paperwork and how he could get permission to drive a very large transportation vessel. He did not understand the rules and the employee on the other side of the counter was sour and seemed exasperated at the man.

Still another man was next to me, taking a test to make sure he could see clearly enough to get permission to drive any transportation vessel at all. The lady behind the machine was trying very hard to be mildly polite, but I’m pretty sure I saw her teeth clenched.

Since I was about fourth in line for getting the sticky things, I had a little time to look around. The only person smiling in the place was a cute little toddler who was patiently waiting for his grandmother. When she was finished dealing with the unsmiling and gruff lady on the other side of the counter, she gave him a peck on the forehead and they walked out together.

I wanted to give both of them a peck on the forehead. Maybe two. One peck would have been for getting to leave this gloomy place and the other peck would have been a congratulatory peck for daring to be pleasant in such a place.

After a while, as with many scenarios in my life, I began to laugh. I could not contain my amusement at the amount of crabbiness in the room.

I began to wonder who started it all. I mean, did the first lady (one who has worked there for years and years) originate the policy of unpleasantness? In all my years of going there, I have never seen her be pleasant. Heck, now when I go in there, I purposely look to see if I can catch her even flash a brief smile.

The thing that made me laugh out loud was the poster on the wall. There, on the wall, is a picture of the government official who is kinda-sorta “in charge” of the place. His name is on your little card that says it is okay for you to drive your vessel.

You wouldn’t believe it! The guy on the poster is grinning broadly as if to say “It’s great to be here hanging on this wall! This place makes me happy!” Poor guy. He’s lucky.

And then I began to have pity for all the people who worked there; even the lady who has worked there for years. Perhaps there are things that happen on that job site I don’t know about. Perhaps there are reasons for their lack of personality.

I still couldn’t hide my laughter. “Good morning,” I chuckled. “Could I get two sticky things? Here are my papers,” I said to the lady who was behind the counter.

This lady had a kind face somewhere behind her required mask of crabbiosity, but she had obviously been brainwashed to stifle any pleasantness, too. There was a brief look of relief on her face and a little glint in her eye. I saw a slight curl on one side of her mouth. It seemed she was either relieved to see a happy person or curious as to what this strange man was doing as I approached her with my smile and chuckling persona.

There will be people who read this column and put two and two together. They will approach one of these people who work at the transportation vessel facility.

Those folks may be offend- ed. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m sure many customers would back me up. You folks are not a happy bunch! You need to be nicer to the public and you need to be pleasant. You need to smile! Please, we beg of you.

I can also picture the whole office standing around under the poster of the happy man, reading my column and wondering who I’m talking about. They may experience a bevy of emotions as they read this.

I hope one of the emotions is laughter. And I hope it sticks. I hope they won’t be able to control it.

And I hope it lasts for at least a day.

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