Being uninformed is so last season
28 March 2017 02:22 (South Africa)
Opinionista David Gemmell

You’re being squeezed. What comes out?

  • David Gemmell
    gemmell opinionista 02
    David Gemmell

    David grew up in the Free State, where his father worked on the gold mines. He has variously been a barman, labourer, truck driver, roughneck, trader, project manager and is now a full time writer.

    He has had a column in Business Day and the now demised Weekender. David has an unusual talent for making people open up to him, which he later turns into a gripping read. He gained nationwide fame after he completed the biography of Joost van der Westhuizen, Joost: The Man in the Mirror. He has recently completed a biography on Father Stan Brennan, Colour Blind Faith.

No matter how hard you squeeze an orange, you only get orange juice out. Now, when you are confronted by the inevitable hordes of aspirant businessmen at traffic lights, and metaphorically squeezed by all of them, what comes out of you?

A while ago I stopped at the lights at Bruma. It was seconds before my greatest irritant, a windscreen-washer, squirted dirty sudsy water on my windscreen and began to clean it off with a squeegee. My heart rate hit terminal velocity in a nanosecond, and I opened my window and screamed: “Fuck off, you little bastard!”

He was young, black, scruffily dressed and had a huge, faux diamond earring in one ear; he stopped squeegeeing and took a step back. Then, in the echoing silence that followed my bellow, he looked at me and with surprising dignity, shrugged his shoulders and said a little despondently, “It’s what I do.”

As I drove off, I developed a slow, burning anger – it grew until I was practically immobilised by it. But this time my annoyance was directed at me. Out of the blue I had been squeezed (squeegeed?) and what had come out was very disappointing, especially considering that, like the proverbial orange, you only get out what is inside.

I actually pride myself on how tolerant I am of traffic-light salesmen. I chat to them, smile if I decline their wares and always tell them to keep the change if I buy something. But reflecting on the incident with the windscreen guy, I realised I’m Mr Nice Guy only as long as they don’t irritate me. But the second they meddle with my mood I am an irascible, intolerant, unpleasant prick.

Compared to the windscreen guy, I live on a different planet. I often spend on a round of drinks what he probably makes in a day of standing in the sun, attempting to clean windscreens of cars driven by hostile people like me. And he does it, not to live a good life – but simply to survive. Yet, inexplicably, I let him annoy me.

My thoughts turned to car guards. They, too, annoy me. They suddenly pop up in places I have been shopping at forever and, like old mates, familiarly start greeting me from a mile away. They direct me unnecessarily and as I am about to drive off, mysteriously appear at my window with a guilt-inducing, reproachful look – especially if I don’t tip them. Which, of course, I never do.

I think they are unnecessary and I refuse to be seduced by their fake bonhomie into giving them my change. Oh, and before I forget, what about taxi-drivers? Don’t get me started – they really, really get my goat.

On reflection, it seems the more you squeeze me, the less pleasant the result.

And then, while trawling You Tube, I came across a talk by Dr Wayne Dyer. In a previous life I bought his book, Your Erroneous Zones, mistakenly thinking it was Your Erogenous Zones - of which I had many at the time - but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. So I watched this talk. The crux of it was: when given the choice of being right or being kind, choose to be kind.

Well, I know I am right about car guards; they are unnecessary. And I am entirely confident I am right about windscreen washers; who needs them? And taxi-drivers? Of course I am right; they are a bloody nuisance, and most of them drive appallingly. But why is being right so important to me?

Curiously, when I view the above irritants from a perspective other than from a need to be right, it is surprising how little they bother me.

So recently, when for a period I was regularly irritated by a car guard who would listlessly watch as arrived, but as I departed appear at my window with a huge sycophantic smile (which disappeared as soon as he realised I wasn’t giving him anything), I saw an opportunity to try and deal with my intolerance.

One evening I beckoned him over and asked if he would like to earn more money. His face lit up, until I gave him Car-Guarding 101.

“When people drive in, smile and be pleased to see them,” I lectured him, “but don’t start greeting them as if they are your mates. Don’t be familiar. Try being useful – show them where there are empty bays.” To my surprise he quickly recovered from his initial disappointment and became interested in what I was saying. I carried on. “When they leave – ask if you can carry their bags, just be around and be friendly without being pushy. Don’t just appear when they are leaving. Lastly, when you direct them, stand in front of the car so they can see you. And then smile and thank them if they give you change and more importantly, smile and wave goodbye if they don’t tip you; as they still might give you something the next time they come.”

Having shared my wealth of car guarding experience with Sam, as he turned out to be, I went off to gym. Over the next few weeks and after many more chats, I couldn’t believe the transformation in him. Suddenly he was a helpful, friendly person. And when I resolutely still never dipped my hand in my pocket, he simply smiled and said, “Cheers”.

After a few months he disappeared. I presumed he’d moved on to other things. I never gave him much thought until one evening I heard someone I couldn’t see greeting me as I got out my car. For a moment I forgot my new perspective and my hackles rose when suddenly I saw Sam. “Oh, hello Sam,” I said, “Where’ve you been?”

“I moved far away to the other side,” he pointed, “but when I saw your car I came across to tell you I’m the top-earner here. I’m number one at Northgate. You taught me good. Thank you.” He shook my hand, turned on his heel and trotted off, waving and smiling, leaving me with an unexpected, unusually warm, fuzzy feeling.

So it seems having been won over to Dr Dyer’s theory by my Sam experience, all that’s left to complete my conversion is to find the diamond earring-wearing windscreen washer at Bruma and give him Windscreen-Washing 101, to help increase his earnings. Then perhaps when next I am squeegeed…er squeezed, the result will be a bit more palatable. DM

  • David Gemmell
    gemmell opinionista 02
    David Gemmell

    David grew up in the Free State, where his father worked on the gold mines. He has variously been a barman, labourer, truck driver, roughneck, trader, project manager and is now a full time writer.

    He has had a column in Business Day and the now demised Weekender. David has an unusual talent for making people open up to him, which he later turns into a gripping read. He gained nationwide fame after he completed the biography of Joost van der Westhuizen, Joost: The Man in the Mirror. He has recently completed a biography on Father Stan Brennan, Colour Blind Faith.

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