Would to starry heaven that smiling at strangers had a purpose. And before last January there was no good reason to suffer such indignities; who wanted to look at my teeth, planted like Easter Island statues, solitude standing, each on its own plinth, proclaiming: “Ok, here’s my personal space. Y’all stay over there and we’ll get along fine”. Tragedy.
Nine brace-capped months later and once disjointed teeth are now chumming along like conjoined siblings. From this beaming vista I can finally appreciate why snakeoil sales men, with winning smiles, can sell oil to snakes but I fear that my orthodontist, well-meaning and stupendously recompensed I might add, has in fixing my teeth also unmasked me and stripped off the excuse that was my garb; and so here I laugh, frightfully naked. It’s not that I hate strangers (I’m not yet a misanthrope) but I just think strangers haven’t done anything to deserve my sunny breezy smile.
By god, it takes a lot of nerve and fakery to produce an “I’m-so-pleased-to-meet-you” smile. All of that energy and you’re repaid back with a smile that has the familiar U-shape at the bottom third of the face but has been manufactured in a North Korean death camp. Worse, you get back a grin or its cousin, the smirk. Both are what you give to someone you think is a jackass but polite society forbids you speaking without thinking. But there’s something even worse than a grin: being ignored.
It’s no accident then that new people are like boils: uninvited but demanding of careful and worrisome attention and frankly after a day outdoors being nice and smily to strangers I am so relieved to be back home. Home, where the only strangers I meet are the ones I create purposefully in daydreams or that my mind manufactures from the books I read. The strangers that I meet there couldn’t give a fuck if I smiled or farted.