So I was walking towards the health food store the other night, plotting out the purchases I was about to make -- overpriced gluten-free bagels and vacuum-packed tofu -- when a man approached me. He was wearing glasses, pants (of course), a bright orange vest, a name tag that read “Patrick.” But back to the vest. He wore it because he works for a charity called CARE and was on the street canvassing for donations. I’m talking “Commit now, here on the sidewalk, and pledge to pay us $10 a month for the rest of your life" kind of canvassing.
It was fluorescent orange because it was a vest with purpose: a guilt-inducing marketing ploy. If you didn’t stop and talk to Patrick, your excuse being that you “didn’t see him standing there” -- in a luminescent LOOK AT ME super vest -- well, then you’d have to live with the shame of knowing that not only are you an uncharitable asshole, but you are also full of $#it.
I stopped, of course, because I know all about these vests. Patrick leaned into his script and I nodded and he talked and talked and I pulled out my credit card and it was all moving along nicely. And then something changed. Somewhere between well-digging and microloans, and Patrick’s occasional Hugh-Grant-like stammers about some mishap at the bar last night and the fact that he was having a really bad day, the subject of my career came up.
“Oh yeah?” he said. “What kind of writer are you?”
“Well, for work I do finance marketing-type writing," I said. “But I also write fiction.”
“Ohhhh. So you want to be a real writer.”
“Actually, Patrick, I am a real writer. I wrote a book." Then I puffed out my chest and added "And I have an agent."
“Wow. When’s your book coming out?”
And this is when it got weird: “Sometime next year,” I replied.
I was amazed at how easily the lie came out of my mouth. It just rushed out of me like a breath.
“So is it going to be at Chapters and on Amazon?” he asked.
I looked at my phone as though I was very busy, a busy that my subconscious mind must have wanted Patrick to assume was a symptom of my being a published author with the kinds of commitments that published authors have. And then I looked at Patrick, laughed a little laugh, and said this: “That’s to be determined.”
Let me be clear: I do not, at this time, have a book coming out. We’re working on it, my amazing agent and I -- Okay, only really my agent. I'm just sort of lumbering aimlessly -- and I do believe that it will happen. But I do not, currently, have a galley in my purse. I have not yet received the phone call. I have not spent a Saturday afternoon scouting locations for my book release party. Not, not, not.
I’m sorry I lied, Patrick. It was a weird, sad thing for me to do. I’m not sure why I said it exactly. I was feeling defensive and embarrassed and mediocre, I guess. And there you were: hung-over and essentially begging me for money. You probably had a quota to fill, right? Or you wouldn’t get paid? You were vulnerable, emotionally and professionally, and I took advantage. I used you to feel, if only for a second, like the person I’ve always dreamed of being.
I hope, Patrick, that my $10/month donation will make up for my weird lie. That it goes towards, I don’t know, sturdy shovels and a communal goat or something.