When not working or wasting time writing blog entries, I like to spend time reading and pounding coffee on Boulder’s venerated Pearl Street Mall when the weather is pleasant (and this time of year, that’s the case virtually every day). This is in spite of the fact that this four-block hippified zone is choked with people of all shapes, sizes, and — most notably — smells.
I decided today that I may have to avoid the place altogether. And it’s not because of the panhandlers, the teenage girls obliviously wandering along in rows of six, or the “musicians” who inexplicably believe that people want to listen to them strum and croon with all of the polish and panache of a gibbon injected with ketamine and given an electric ukelele.
It’s the Clipboard Brigade. They’re fucking relentless.
By way of explanation, there are countless young volunteers for various organizations patrolling the place on days like today (i.e., every day). These groups are what you’d expect — Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, Feed the Hungry-Ass Children, Save the Goddamned Environment. (I made up the last two, but the real names are close.) They stand smack in the way of passerby wielding clipboards and try to snag you by catching you unawares: “How are you doing today! What’s your name, man?” Then up comes the clipboard and thus begins the spiel. They’re telemarketers in the flesh. And if you listen to the spiel and tell them you’re declining to contribute, they just move to the next step in the rhetorical algorithm unless you flat-out walk off, in which case they cheerfully order you to have a great day.
The problem isn’t that I don’t like these organizations or the minions they have dispatched to represent them. I like their causes and their passion. The problem is that there are so goddamned many of them that avoiding them is like an elaborate video game. If you see one ahead and figure you can dodge her by switching to the other lane of the mall, you’ll just discover another one stationed over there, because they anticipate this.
I’ve also tried the talk-on-cell-phone trick, the talk-animatedly-to-myself gambit, and the cold stare. Only the latter helps at all. I’ll sometimes engage them briefly with the lie that I already give to their organization, something they really can’t argue with even if they know you’re lying. I do in fact donate to Planned Parenthood, but I guess I need to give even more so that eventually every potential solicitor is demolished in utero.
This is a real problem for benign misanthropes who prefer to negotiate large crowds in a de facto bubble. Even the panhandlers don’t try to get your attention this aggressively; they simply hold up cardboard signs. Actually, there’s an idea; if I dress in rags and avoid showering — hardly a stretch for me — then the Clipboard Brigade will identify me as a member of Team Will Beg For Booze Money and I can live out my days on the mall in relative peace.