A few weeks ago I was walking through the loading dock of an arena in Birmingham, AL when a man with shoulder-length lank grey hair, chin stubble, and a Rasta bracelet told me to smile, sweetheart. I didn't recognize him but had the feeling that I should. In retrospect I think he was a local stagehand but something about him seemed familiar, like he was crew guy on Aldean's team who I'd forgotten over the six-week break from their tour. Aldean's crew and management are fantastic so I didn't want to be dick but I felt a surge of old, uncomfortable emotions associated with being told to smile that I tried to cover up.
"What?" I said, forcing a smile.
"I've seen you walking around and you need to smile more. Enjoy life. Enjoy your job!"
He said something about always having positive energy and prodded me to agree with him. I mumbled, "Yeah, positive energy," and got out of there before he produced a bongo and started singing but I was pissed, at myself and him. For reasons I wasn't entirely sure of, I'd let him tell me how to be. I'd agreed to let him boss my face around. My stomach hollowed out and my skin went hot and as I was walking away I sent Matthew texts.
"Some fucker just told me to smile."
"And of course it was an know-it-all old man."
This has happened many times before but not recently so I wasn't prepared. It's always annoyed me but it feels much worse now. Being asked what was wrong as I walked down the hall in high school was an easy fix: "Nothing! Why? Oh, that's just my face." In college in Ecuador, men on the street told me to smile and I went through a phase of baring my teeth like a rabid dog, a grotesque imitation of a smile. The older man pattern began to show itself in Seattle when I was a bartender. They were usually middle-aged or more and often sailors or construction workers and it was in a divey Irish pub where we were allowed to cut people off and kick them out and tell them to fuck off if necessary. Most of the bartenders were tough bitches - shit, I was scared on my first shift - and in no way should the customers have expected me to smile if I didn't feel like it or kiss their asses in any way so I told them as much.
And that is when I started noticing that I've never been told by anyone female to smile more. Always and only men.
In Birmingham last month, I wondered why it's been so long since I've faced this and why I was subsequently so caught off guard. I can't remember ever being told on Idol to smile so either I smiled more or people knew me better and didn't expect that, both of which are very possible. The Aldean stagehand didn't know me or what I do as he watched me walking through the loading dock that day. Then I thought of something that ratcheted up my anger: I SERIOUSLY FUCKING DOUBT THAT HE'S TELLING ALDEAN'S MALE TOUR MANAGER OR PRODUCTION MANAGER TO SMILE.
There is no way. No, those guys have jobs to do and a lot to manage and be responsible for and may not be concerned with spreading joy and light as they move from one task to another. They have to work hard! But I'm supposed to entertain some dude's desire for levity? Oh, hell. Aldean's managers are great at their jobs and I've seen them smile and laugh when something makes them laugh; the rest of the time they're busting ass, all business. I don't think that has anything to do with whether they enjoy life or their jobs or if they're clowns in their off time. Nor do I think the absence of a smile signals negativity. Absorption, contemplation, concentration: take your pick. Anyway, it's not really that guy's business.
Not that I said any of this to the stagehand, of course. I'm still out of practice and the thought still burns me. What do I say? I don't want to get mad or defensive. I want to just calmly, swiftly shut him down. I don't want to agree and play along. I'd love to make him think and I'm definitely not opposed to making him feel stupid. Any thoughts?