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Pickle Me This

February 11, 2019

On Asking for Things

I think I’ve been audacious precisely twice in my life, and I’ve written about one of those times before: the time I encountered hydro workers on a country road and pulled over to ask if I could have a ride in their bucket. “I can’t think of a reason why not,” was the worker’s incredible reply, and so we had an adventure, just because we’d had the nerve to ask for it. But such nerve, for me, was uncharacteristic, and while I will forever wish I was the kind of person who was ever asking for bucket rides, that day was an anomaly. Instead, I’m pretty religious about following the rules, keeping to the speed limit, staying in my lane, and watching spacing.

(“If we give one out to you, we’ll have to start giving them out to everybody,” I once told a patron when I worked in a library, and he’d asked to borrow a pencil. Libraries, with their decimals and rules, are my natural habitat, and the habits I acquired there have proven awfully hard to break. At my local branch, I still get rankled when I see children eating crackers by the board books, scattering crumbs across the floor.)

The other time I was audacious was completely by accident, or ignorance. When I was seventeen, I spent a week in Edinburgh, where my aunt, uncle and cousins were living for a year, by which I meant that my youthful naivety (and stupidity) was unleashed on the international community. I was a ridiculous human being, and insisted on wearing pyjamas on the plane, WHICH WAS NOT GLAMOUROUS. I also thought the whole point of travel was to try out the McDonalds menu in other cities. In Edinburgh, the commercial streets were lined with signs that said, “To Let,” and every time I saw one, I pointed and shouted, “Toilet!” I had to purchase a second suitcase in a charity shop in order to bring home the supply of chocolate bars I’d bought on my trip. And even with all this, my cousin consented to spend time with me. She is a very understanding person, and to this day (mysteriously, on her end) one of my dearest friends.

We spent a week together, aimless and kind of dumb, eating McDonalds, and visiting castles, and TopShop, and then one day we walked past a hair salon and there was a sign in the window: OAP Haircuts, £3. Which I thought seemed like a very reasonably price for a haircut, so I went in and asked for it. “I would like an OAP haircut, please.” I recall how the staff responded kind of strangely, but I just wrote that off as being because they didn’t much chance at this salon to cut the hair of a nubile young lass with long chestnut hair—everyone else in the place was kind of old, see? And afterwards, all this was just a funny story I told, about the time I went to Scotland and got my hair cut (which is far more characteristic than the bucket ride, if I’m being honest). We even took a photo to remember it by.

It was not until years later that I figured it all out, what an OAP haircut actually was, why everyone else in the salon had come in for a set. That an OAP is an “old age pensioner” (surely this had come up in Adrian Mole. How had I missed it) and what must the woman at the desk had thought when I walked into the place asking for a senior’s discount? (On the other hand, I was foreign. Being foreign helps you get away with so many things. Which makes me realize that “I think I’ve been audacious precisely twice in my life” is not exactly accurate, because doing the year we lived in Japan, we did audacious things all the time. As gaijin, no less was expected of us.)

My biggest takeaway from all of this is that sometimes, if you want a thing, all you’ve got to do is ask for it. Sometimes, due to sheer audacity—accidental or otherwise—the person you’re asking will have no choice, but to just give it to you. (Unless it is a pencil, and I am working at the library circulation desk. Because if I gave one to you, I’d have to give one to everybody.) That being naive and ignorant enough ask for a thing can sometimes actually be the key to getting it. And that’s not the whole story, of course, and anyone who tells you that your consciousness is the key to unlocking the universe IS LYING. But still, there is power in asking. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

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