A Madison moment

I was looking at earrings at a jewelry stand on State Street outside the student union. As I browsed, I became aware of a voice behind me a few yards away.

“Hi! Can you spare a moment to help out the environment?”

I could tell it was a girl and that I sure as hell was in a college town.

When I was walking around Cambridge a couple weeks ago there were scary kids in yellow T-shirts and clipboards lurching around the sidewalks saying, “You’ve got a minute, RIGHT?” I dodged two of them, since I was pretty sure that my out-of-town-just-passing-through-minute would be worthless to their cause and thus wasted. At one point I’d had to turn around and backtrack half a block, which meant I had to pass one of them again, a tall lanky kid. “I knew you’d come back!” he’d said exuberantly. “No.” I’d mumbled, rushing by. But the girl here in Madison wasn’t accosting me. I couldn’t even really see her but as I deliberated over a pair of earrings I kept hearing her try to engage passerby.

“Hi there! Can you spare a moment to help out the environment?”

(Silence and footsteps)

“Hi! Can you spare a moment to help out the environment?”

(Muttered, noncommittal reply)“Okay! Hi! Can you spare a moment to help out the environment?”

I handed the earrings I’d chosen to the jewelry vendor, who wrote the receipt slowly. Someone had stopped to help out the environment. From what I could hear, the environment required a monthly debit amount from a checking account. Someone would think about it.

“Yeah, that’s fine!” I heard the girl call after him or her.

Then she said, “Hi! Can you spare a moment to help out the environment?”

The vendor gave me my earrings and pointed out some necklaces that were twenty percent off. I started examining some silver pendants.

“Hi there! Spare a moment to help out the environment?”

I decided to buy a necklace, too.

“Hey!” Environment Girl said suddenly. Her voice was different. I froze and was afraid to turn, because for a moment I thought she was talking to me. “So guess where I am,” she said, and then I realized she was on her cell phone. “I’m on State Street,” she told her friend on the phone. “I’m doing that job? Yeah.”

I tried to catch the name of the organization she was working for, but the jewelry vendor was counting out my change. “…Yeah. Classes are out now. (Pause.) I’m by the bookstore? (Pause.) Yeah. The thing is? I think? Um, this job makes me totally want to shoot myself. Seriously.”

I looked at the jewelry lady to see if she was listening, too, but she was busy writing another receipt.

“I mean, my God,” the girl went on. “This sucks so bad.”

* * *

I’m back from Wisconsin now. I didn’t get a chance to take many photos, but I’ll post the few that I have this weekend.

And if you’ve been by the book site, you’ve noticed you’ll get a chance to see me three times this weekend: 1.) 7:00 pm Saturday for a short reading at at Book Cellar in Lincoln Square 2.) 12:30 pm Sunday for a reading at The Printers Row Book Fair and then 3.) 2:00 pm Sunday at the fair I’ll be doing a memoirs panel with Paula Kamen and Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Come see me! It’s for the environment! Okay, so it’s not, but for the sake of that poor girl, PRETEND IT IS.


  1. Steanne says

    I’m willing to bet it was Dialogue Direct. They’re all over Philly, too. I always wonder what they have to face back at headquarters that could make them so terrified to be anything other than perky.