Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Just Ask J.J.

So, yesterday, I walk into my local Barnes & Noble to check out the new releases, and, as I stand there in my Raiders t-shirt and cargo shorts, with my earbuds blasting the Beatles, this woman comes tramping in the front door, walks right up to me, and says, "I need a book called Things Fall Apart."

This happens to me all the time. Almost everywhere I go, no matter how casually I'm dressed, people think I work there. In malls, I get asked for directions. In stores, I get asked for help finding things. In restaurants, I get asked about the menu. At the library, I get asked where the reference section is. When I'm on the Strip, tourists ask me how far away the Bellagio is.

I guess it's my many years working in customer service. Maybe it's that I carry myself like someone who knows where stuff is. Most likely, it's just that I look relatively friendly and harmless. When I dress up, I look like a high-school principal. When I dress down, I look like high-school principal on his day off, about to mow his lawn.

My friends have a nickname for this phenomenon of people walking up and asking me things. They call it the "Just Ask J.J." moment, and it was born in those moments in a barroom conversation when some trivia was needed and all eyes would inevitably turn my way to see if I knew what the world's longest river was. Apparently, the random public has tuned into this phenomena, as well.

This is what comes of a meandering liberal-arts education and a lifelong mastery of useless, inapplicable information.

In any case, it takes me a moment to realize that this woman is talking to me, so I pull my earbuds out and mutter an "Excuse me?"

"My boy needs it for school," the woman continues, unflappable in her quest. She looks about late-30's, wearing an Ed Hardy tank-top, shorts, and flipflops. Her hair is pulled back into one of those scrunchy things, and she's not wearing any makeup. Clearly, she's a mom on a mission. This is when I notice the two boys shuffling in her wake, each clutching Nintendos and looking rather sullen.

"It's a novel by Chinua Achebe, " I say to her, pointing down the fiction aisle. "You'll find it right down there. In fact, I can see it on the top shelf right there."

As she motors away, dragging her boys with her, a young man in a button-down shirt & khakis walks up. He's got a nice, tight ponytail and a cute little soul patch to go along with his horned-rim glasses. Even without the name-badge, I'd have pegged him as a wage-slave of Barnes & Noble.

Before he can say anything, I wave towards the receding woman and say, "I'm good, but I think she might have a question or two."

The wage-slave nods and goes after her, and I continue my browsing.

Later, as I leave the store, just before I step off the curb to walk towards my car, an SUV stops in front of me and the driver's side window rolls down.

A clean-cut guy in a polo shirt leans out. He looks lost and in a certain amount of discomfort.

This is when I realize that the sound I hear in the background is a chorus of kids all screaming for ice cream.

"You, uh, wouldn't happen to know where there's a Baskin-Robbins around here?" the driver asks.

I smile and point and begin giving directions. After all, we're here to help each other out, right?


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