In an attempt to block out the chatter of the workplace, I popped in my earbuds and opened Youtube. Something made me play London Calling, the full album.
After cringing at the oil pipeline ad that preceded it*, it was proven yet again that I can’t get through a bout of Spanish Bombs without remembering this one time back in my bookstore days. A guy came in carrying a vague familiarity. He might have either gone to my high school or showed up at a lot of the same parties. He asked for a book of some type I can’t remember. It was likely music-related, as I can’t imagine what else could have provided a more reasonable segueway into a discussion of The Clash.
We discovered we were both over-the-top fans. His favourite song was Spanish Bombs, mine was Lost in the Supermarket. (This is when I was nineteen years old; my favourite now is probably White Man in Hammersmith Palais. I’m sure you care.)
Regardless, it was little more than the polite small talk one engages in with a customer. It was not ingenuine by any means; I didn’t lie and I wasn’t just trying to sell him something. But it is also not as if this conversation took place in a bar or coffee shop.
My point: the power dynamic was inherently skewed. We were not speaking as equals, even if the casual nature of the conversation may have made it feel like that. He was a customer and I was a customer service representative. I was there to serve him.
So, naturally, when he came back about ten minutes later (presumably after summoning courage) and asked me out, I totally faltered.
Had we met as equals, perhaps I might have given it a chance.
But the fact of the matter is, he asked me out in a situation where there was an explicit power imbalance.
Before I even had chance to process this, I said No – by way of I have a boyfriend. While the whole I have a boyfriend excuse is problematic for so many reasons that I am well aware of and totally agree with, it was simply the knee-jerk reaction that occurred to me at the time. In the spur of the moment, it seemed the most polite way to rebuff advances. Much more gentle than I’m not interested.
And when I’m standing there in a vest with a nametag and a manufactured smile, how could I possibly be allowed to be bluntly honest?
I’m sure he was entirely oblivious of this power inequality; of course he would be! Pop culture is bloated with examples of this meet cute. I’m sure this is how many perfectly balanced couples met, I’ve just never met any of them.
It wasn’t the only time that happened, nor was it the most memorable. But there it is: the Proustian journey my mind took this morning.
*Fuck those bastards! At the very least, this is punk rock. Know your target market, assholes.