Last night I did a book signing at the lovely and wonderful Palm Beach Bookstore. While in the sunshine state for a total of thirty-six hours, friends invited me to stay with them at their condo in Palm Beach. So I booked myself a flight, hopped on a plane and rented a capable little Ford Focus at the airport. Okay- it wasn’t quite that happy. I hadn’t slept more than five hours a night for the last three days, I’d sweated through my clothes and had made the ill-fated decision to hairspray my carefully constructed curls in the wind. Rather than achieving carefree beach blown waves, I ended up with stringy, sticky hair. So, by the time I pulled up to the security gate at my friends’ place, with Kid Rock serenading me loudly on the radio, I was not pretty. Nor did I smell good.
I rolled down my window feeling full of myself, despite my appearance, because I was, after all, in Palm Beach, Florida for a book signing. In just a few hours, the store would be packed to capacity and they would almost sell out of my books. Of course, I had no way of knowing that at the moment, but it didn’t deter my good mood. That feeling lasted right until I told the guard who I was there to see. He looked me up and down, scanned my scrappy little rental car from front to back, and said, “Oh, you must be the dog walker.”
Imagine my indignation. Me- a rising star (okay, at the very least, a published novelist), all the way from the great white north, in town to inscribe books to adoring fans (or maybe local friends who’d been holding out on buying the book in hopes I’d make it down) being mistaken for a dog walker. I smiled sweetly, suddenly aware of the lettuce stuck between my front teeth, and told him that no, no, I was friends with said people and was taking up residence with them for the night. I’m all for sticking to my guns and that’s exactly what this guy did. He rolled his eyes, and said, “Well, you look like a dog walker.”
Of course I was offended. Why wouldn’t I be? And then I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. Round, red face, stringy hair, sweat stains on my armpits, porky frame, cheap car, inexpensive t-shirt. As I was taking inventory of myself, a line of cars slowly trickled in the complex: sleek BMWs and sexy Porsches driven by impossibly perfect women who looked like they hadn’t eaten since 2003. I couldn’t spy much else as I was blinded by their five carat diamonds and glossy hair. Immediately I thought of that game from Sesame Street- Which One of These is Not Like the Others? So I guess couldn’t blame the guy for assigning me a dog-walking life. My irritation was replaced by bliss as I took in the strangely calm, turquoise water lapping against the beach in front of me and reminded myself that shortly I would be catching up with old friends and engaging in one of my favorite activities- talking about my books.
Okay, Mr. Gate Guard. No harm no foul. But then I realized there was harm and foul, and it was mine. Not his. My best friend has a friend who left her obscenely high-paying job in corporate lawyerdom to become a dog walker. She lives in Lulu Lemons, walks several miles a day and does something she loves. She’s also five-foot-ten, model skinny and beautiful. Suddenly I thought I should be so lucky to look like a dog walker, or at least that dog walker.
We do judge books by their covers- both literally (An angry college student told me she wasn’t going to read my book because it was about snobby, rich people. When I asked her what made her think that, she replied that only rich people hang out at lakes.) and figuratively- this guy assumed by my shabby state that I was a dog walker. But which one of us was the bigger offender here- him for making assumptions about me or me for being bothered? Aren’t we all guilty of acting like Mr. Gate Guard? What about the girl with the platinum blonde hair, long fingernails and breasts spilling out of a tank top that wouldn’t fit on an American Girl doll who turns out to be the chief resident in the neurosurgery program at the local hospital? Or the guy who was sitting in front of me years ago who was wearing torn, canvas sneakers, paint-splattered shorts and a dirty t-shirt who, after striking up a conversation with him about his neon green shoelaces, I learned not only was a good friend of my husband’s but also a gazilionaire (he didn’t tell me that. I recognized his name from Kurt talking about him). And how about the man in the tailored suit who is a college student on scholarship?
In my defense, I don’t think I would have been irritated if his comment hadn’t been meant to be a slight. Believe me, it was: he’d perfected looking down his nose at me and used that unaffected tone of voice as if I were a fly he was trying to swat. Perhaps he shared some of the harm and foul. A job is a job. He shouldn’t have come to a disdainful conclusion about mine given my appearance and I shouldn’t have been insulted. I know plenty of people making six figures who hate their jobs and even more folks who make considerably less and wouldn’t change a thing.
Lesson learned, Mr. Gate Guard. Next year when I come back to Palm Beach to do a signing for book two, I will bring along a pink, sparkly leash and proudly own up to that noble profession.