Every so often, usually around election time, petitioners will appear in front of super markets and drug stores, holding clipboards and shouting something inflammatory like, "Save children and families. Sign our petition!" or "Don't you hate terrorists? Sign our petition!" And they always end up luring me in, and they always trick me into signing away my soul for some cause that I don't support. Some cause that I loathe with every ounce of my being.
I first encountered one of these petitioners a few months after I moved to LA. I was with a coworker on our lunch break and we were going into a Rite Aid. A sweet old woman was positioned outside of the front entrance, behind a foldy table covered in papers, displaying a big sign STOP PROPOSITION 84. "Girls! Hello!" she called out to us as we approached. I began veering towards her when suddenly my friend grabbed my arm and pulled me away. "No thank you!" she shouted toward the old lady. Then, under her breath, "We don't want that." She was the protective mother and I was the stupid toddler about to eat some old gum I'd pried off the sidewalk.
As we walked into the store, I kept looking back at the earnest old woman and her display. Certainly she was not up to anything devious, was she? But my friend was a few years older and wiser so I thought it best to follow her lead.
But if there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's that I never learn my lesson. Ever. Never ever.
And so the next time I came across a petitioner, I was again lured towards her. Another sweet old lady. A sweet old lady who was trying to make abortion illegal. Ah! "No thank you!" I shouted at her, just as my friend had done the last time. I handed back her clipboard and pen and shuffled into the grocery store. Oh dear, that was a close call. I better stay away from these guys from now on!
But I never learn my lesson. Ever. Never ever.
About a year ago I was on my way into the supermarket and I saw a petitioner standing near the front entrance. I panicked and began to head for the door on the other side. But standing in front of that door was the guy who always tries to sell me his R&B cds and packages of dress socks. Drat!
I started heading for the petitioner's entrance. I'd now zigzagged my way across the parking lot. As I approached him, I took in his appearance. Young, maybe 27? Shaggy hair. Stubble. Is he actually wearing tie dye? Ohmygod he is! How stinkin' cute. Well he can't possibly ask me to sign some ultra conservative petition like those crabby old ladies. He's probably trying to end the war and save the environment.
Wait a second. How does the expression go? "You should always always judge a book by its cover. That never fails." Oh perfect. Sign me up, you magnificent hippy!
"Stop government fat cats from taking over California," he says and he sounds like Jim Breuer in Half Baked. Fat cats! "Send a message that we aren't gonna take it." Right on, brothaman! Vive la revolucion!
"They're trying to turn our state into one giant casino." Heh?
"The state assembly is trying to make it legal for electronic gambling machines, like video poker, to be installed in any place of business. We're talking gas stations, shopping malls, even right here at your grocery store."
Is something wrong with me that I didn't find this to be a big threat? Is it any worse than selling lottery scratch-offs at all of those same venues? I am sure that in my travels I've been in states where there were video poker machines in the corners of diners and liquor stores. And I remember seeing them just collecting dust and wondering if anyone ever used them. And if they did, what do I care? It's their money. It's their lame ass way to spend it. What states had I seen this in? Definitely Nevada. And was it Texas? No, that's not it. Louisiana? That seems possible...
Then it occurred to me that the hippy petitioner was just standing there impatiently waiting for me to respond, in some fashion.
"Uh," I eloquently began, "I don't know if I really care about that happening."
"But if they start with these places of business, what's next? Gambling in our libraries, in our schools?"
"Why would that happen?"
"You never know what they'll do next. Especially if we give them the power to pass these bills without putting it to a vote. All you'll be saying, if you sign this, is Hey man, put it to a vote."
"Oh, well I guess that makes sense." I think. I don't know what the hell this guy is talking about anymore. He smells like wet moss.
So I just sign the dern thing and go about my shopping, wondering what exactly I'd gotten myself into. I am never talking to one of those petitioners again.
But I never learn my lesson. Ever. Never ever.
So last week I am on my way into my beloved Trader Joe's, when I see a pleasant looking old man with a clipboard up ahead. Oh no, here we go again. I willed myself to stay away. But then I saw his smile, and his kind eyes. And his FUCKING ADORABLE DOG sitting on a little table next to him. "Help stop animal cruelty!" the man shouts as I get closer. Ack! My weakness. If there is one cause that I will fight for it is to stop animal cruelty. And ohmygod, look, that dog is wearing a little sign around his neck that says "Please end cruelty to animals." Give me the fucking pen! As I'm signing my name and filling out my address the petitioner is going on about abuse on farms or something, but he doesn't even need to waste his time because I am already totally buying what he's selling.
Afterwards, I pet the dog, puff up my chest, and march into Trader Joe's feeling exceedingly pleased with myself. So not all of these petitioners are evil tricksters. I will have to stop being so cynical. Then I recall seeing "4H" somewhere in the fine print as I was signing. "What are those 4H brats up to now?" I wonder. Gosh, are they abusing animals? What are they teaching these kids? Or have I just signed something making 4H clubs illegal, taking away the one source of healthy amusement for children and teens in rural areas and thereby leaving them with no option but to turn into a bunch of meth addicts...um. Well no matter, I've got to buy stuff for dinner.
Then, on Friday, I'm making an after work stop at the supermarket for beer, cat litter, and frozen pizza, when I see a petitioner up ahead. A sweet looking 20-something girl in a hoodie. Hmm, she's probably not up to anything reprehensible.
"Keep solar energy free!" she shouts. Is someone making people pay for it? Is anyone actually using solar energy? Oh well, I guess it should stay free. "Sure, I'll sign" I say. After I fill out all the stuff, she lifts up the petition and folds it over the top of the clipboard to reveal another one underneath. "This one is to protect marriage in California." Wait, what? Why would marriage be in danger? I better read that fine print that is wedged under the clipboard's clippy thing. Ah ha! You trickster! You are trying to stop gay marriage. "No thank you!"
She sighs, then lifts the petition to reveal yet another one underneath. This time, she offers nothing by way of explanation, so I read the fine print and discover this one is to force minors to get parent's permission to have an abortion. Oh good grief. You mean force a teen in an abusive family to make a choice between telling her parents she's knocked up and getting beaten and/or kicked out of the house, or running away and having the baby in some restaurant bathroom and tossing it in a dumpster. Gee, bright idea. "No thank you!" Now I'm wondering what the twist was in that solar energy thing I signed.
She turns the page to present one last petition. Oh no. Oh no no no. It's that animal cruelty one I just signed the other day. This means there is some downside somewhere in the fine print. Unless this is the one honest to goodness, actually bettering the world petition mixed in with all those other ones. Oh crap, I can't even look. I shove the clipboard at her and practically run away.
I think, I HOPE, I have actually, finally learned my lesson here. But you can never be too sure.