U is for Undoing Unhappiness

U“As you are walking in the city towards the next intersection, smile at everyone you happen to make eye contact with. Award yourself a point for every smile that is returned. The winner is the one with the most smiles.”  Prompt #14 in Ruth Ozeki’s Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

I am amused that several readers asked “What happened to the “U” blog?”

I could say, if U knew me, U’d know that Flexible instead of Quinby, is my middle name. I punt when I don’t have recipe ingredients. I consider a schedule just a guideline—an insight supplied by my wife in a poem she (lovingly) read at our commitment ceremony 18 years ago.

As for the “U” blog, I shifted the responsibility to my grandchildren. Since their schedules didn’t match up with the progression of the alphabet prompts, I wrote U on V day and V on U day. Never mind that I’m posting on W day.

After seeing Zootopia, the contest began. Alexandra (17), Elizabeth (12) and Nicholas (9) counted the smiles they received on the way to and in the venues to which we were walking—The Habit Burger Grill and Nordstrom’s in the Sugar Loaf area of Salt Lake City. I told them to keep exact track of SIRs (Smiles In Return) and to remember as much as they could about what happened. Then we’d talk.

Nicholas (15 SIRs, 19 no smile backs) edged out Elizabeth (9 SIRs, 6 no smile backs),  as the winner and the one who tried the hardest. Alex (8 SIRs) concentrated on buying shoes for her upcoming prom (an understandable decision for a teenager) and likely prompted by the experience illustrated in this exchange. My first question to her was, “Were the smiles different?”

“It’s crazy,” she said, “how many facial expressions you can get by smiling. I got a sarcastic smile at Nordstrom’s. I started to sit down and this lady, half-smiling, said, “You’re in my spot.” Then, when I was looking at Converse Unisex shoes, a guy said, ‘You’re in the men’s section.’ I said ‘I know.’ And then he gave a raised-eyebrow-Really? smile. At the restaurant I asked the guy behind the counter where the restrooms were. “There’s a sign right there,” he said pointing, as if I was a total dummy.

And that’s when she said, “Okay, Gramma, I’m done with this smiling thing.”

Elizabeth kept up with the “smiling thing.” Here’s a bit of our conversation.

Elizabeth: There was this couple. They both smiled back. The girl was kinda Gothic, wearing a purple shirt, black pants. She had long black hair. The guy was wearing a black shirt with nude pants.

Me: Elizabeth, what do you mean by nude pants?

Elizabeth, with her very own quizzical-what-don’t-you-understand-smile. You know, the color, nude.

Me: You mean flesh-colored or beige?

Elizabeth, shrugged, but maintained her stance: I just call it nude.”

Elizabeth’s overall observation—sophisticated for a 12-year-old I thought: “I think most people don’t want to be rude so they smile back. It’s in their DNA. Seems natural for them to do it. But there were a lot who didn’t smile at all. Some people just kept walking.”

There was no daunting Nicholas’ enthusiasm. When Alex asked him to hold a box of shoes for her, he said. “Can’t, Alex, I’m losing time.”

He ran down the Nordstrom’s aisle to my outpost at Men’s Shorts: “Gramma, do babies count?” “Of course.” I said. Later, as we were in the car, he asked, “How bout waving and smiling?” I hated to disappoint him, but the contest was over and he had already demonstrated his ability to engage with people and to observe them closely. Later in the evening, he recited his experiences and I typed up his words:

  • This guy had brown hair, glasses, brown or blue eyes, plaid shirt blue, jeans, brown shoes and swipe badge. He had an ear bud in one ear. He had a dutiful smile.
  • That Little baby had little squeezy lips, no hair, blue eyes, pale skin, was in a little carrier, had footie jammies. His smile was like a fish’s.
  • There was an old lady with a red-orange mushroom cut. Freckles, long eyelashes, wearing scrubs. Her smile was square with lots of teeth showing. She looked a little constipated. Her face was orange.
  • A black guy smiled. I heard him talking in a different language. He had on jeans and a t-shirt.
  • Two guys were talking. One was kinda chill. He had on a black beanie. His smile was with a raised hand, “What’s up dude?” He had teeny, teeny freckles and arm pit hair and tattoo on his arm—it was a circle.
  • “I stared at people but they didn’t stare back. If I said Hi, then they said Hi.”
  • People don’t pay attention to kids.

Nicolas, I think they paid attention to you and I know one person you–and your sisters–made happy: me.

7 thoughts on “U is for Undoing Unhappiness

  1. What fun! This is one of my favorites so far. (You are a bit math-challenged, though. The Holy Union ceremony was in ’98. That’ll make it 18 years in September.)

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  2. That was fun. You’re so creative. Made me laugh out loud a few times. What cute grandkids you have- too bad Gabrielle wasn’t there to join in the smiles. This sure made me happy too. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. The kids were lots of fun and I’m also sorry that Gabrielle was at La Crosse (sp?) practice. She would have added a different take.

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