Monday, April 03, 2006

the tyranny of mr. smiley

As I'm sitting in the Chinese restaurant waiting for my take-out order, he walks in—beaming.

He's a handsome black man who looks my way and smiles. It's not one of those normal, I-just-heard-something-funny smiles. Nor is it, an aren't-I-clever? crease of the face. No, it's more of one of those evangelical-I'm-so-happy-I'm-saved-you-poor-heathen smiles. That self-righteous attitude comes across even more so because he's trying to spread the smile. Like a communicable disease that needs no physical touch, just eye contact, that tooth-less smile will jump from his face and light up your own dour mug.

He bends his head and looks into the shy Chinese girl's face who has been assigned to seat him and his friend. She ducks and bows her head, trying to avoid his overpowering lips, cheek, eyes, chin. That's when I overhear him answer his friend, "I told her to smile." And she's about to; he's conquered her. Of course, she's used to be being invisible, the simple act of attention bowls her over easily.

I determine that when he looks my way, I WILL NOT smile. Instead, I decide that I will glare. I will burn a whole through his forced good-cheer and hope to show him that his smile is not sincere, it's just some sort of a bulwark against the dread.

But I'm conflicted. It's not that I don't enjoy smiling; it's not that I'm not normally optimistic and friendly. The fact of the matter is that I do enjoy smiling and do so often enough throughout a good day, but this presumptuous tyrant thinks that he can control my mood. He should tell this defenseless, shy girl to smile. He must reduce me to his will because—aw shucks—it's done with a "positive" intent.

It reminds me of a conversation in college when we pondered if we ever smiled willingly. Wasn't it always do to some coercive social pressure? Didn't babies learn to giggle from their parents making foolish faces and forcing their offspring to open their gumless maw in imitation of their own? Don't you respond to a confusing or aggressive situation with a smile to difuse the unsettling feelings or potential conflict? I said no, that there is in fact some upwelling of feeling that transforms one's face involuntarily. It's natural, not nurture. Have I changed so much now that I am cynical enough to deny my own position? Am I such a curmudgeon I would choose to scowl rather than smile?

As the man was taken away, turning his head this way and that so he could smile at others—who innocently ate their sesame chicken while struggling with oversized plastic chopsticks—in a vain hope to infect them as well (perhaps he thought he was storing up these conquests for some greater smile army that would one day rule the world), I did smile. It was at the fact that he was trying so hard to do something that does come naturally. It had been a long day, I was tired and that smile felt good. Maybe it bordered on a smirk. And maybe that natural feeling of wanting to smile for a reason rather than because it was being foisted on me was all that I needed. I walked home with my noodles and rice, smiling all the way, a little bit more bounce in my step.


At 9:35 AM, Blogger Dee said...

"Gumless maw!"

Of baby!


At 7:13 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

Wait a minute. If the maw is gumless, what is it? Exposed bone?

(I cross-posted this on Dee's blog.)

Great story, btw. :)

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

oh, wait, I get it, it's that silly face made when you cover up your teeth with your lips, right?


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