Earlier today, I was either the unwilling participant in a sociological experiment or the accidental victim of a voodoo mind trick. Either way, it’s the last thing you would expect when simply buying a coffee.
Not far from my home is a 7-11. On mornings when I am too lazy to make coffee or on my way back from the gym, it’s my regular and convenient stop. I know where everything is, even the good lids for the coffee cups.
Over the years, I got to know the employees, so when someone new or different is working in the morning, I tend to notice. This was the case this morning.
I was in line behind another customer. I usually try to pay attention to what people are buying because you see the most interesting combination of items being purchased at convenience stores. It’s not unusual to see someone with a can of cat food, a pack of Marlboro's and butter.
Today, I was standing in line with my small coffee and (since it was a gym day and I refuse to pay $50 for a protein drink) chocolate milk with no regard for what the guy in front of me was buying. When I put my items on the counter, two things happened almost at once.
First, I didn't recognize the girl behind the counter. And two, she watched the guy in front of me walk out of the door, turned back to me, and said, “I don’t trust him. He didn’t look me in the eye once.”
It was the savviest mind control trick of all time.
Now, if your spouse or a friend says this, well, no big deal. You have probably already established some communication norms that simply override this sort of inane comment. However, if a stranger says this, you are given over to a state of obligatory obedience.
You certainly do not want someone to think you are not trustworthy, so you want to establish, instantly, eye contact. On the other hand, by doing so, you are rendered completely conscience of this eye contact, which leads to a state of utter and overbearing self-awareness, a feeling that is as awkward as it is paralyzing.
Normally, paying for my items is a massive, non-event. Today, it was an excruciating exercise in psychological stability. I was inundated with questions. Was I looking her in the eye enough? Too much? Christ, have I even fucking blinked? What is she going to say about me to the next guy?
By the time I got to my car, my heart was racing and my brain was scrambled. I immediately shot-gunned the chocolate milk, glanced into the store and pitied the person who was short on cat food, smokes and butter.