The judgmental stranger is a growing breed of somewhat unhappy people who have the need to make themselves feel better by judging others, often accompanied by self-ambivalence and misdirected anger. While the religiously fervent Muslim and Christian are the “classic” judgmental strangers, we shall explore other types, perhaps in demographic overlap with this kind readership.
1. Record store clerk. Less the case now because of mp3s and iTunes, but still, the record store clerk is the archetype of the stranger who will judge you for your taste, or lack of, during a transaction of consumer goods. One obviously shouldn’t attempt to purchase anything mainstream-douchey like Jack Johnson or John Mayer; but it is also ill-advised to get something “predictably authentic,” especially if it’s recently gained popularity among the unsavvy, or is still non-ironically listened to earnestly by sensitive folk. For example, if I were to go to a record store and buy The Queen is Dead (let’s say a used CD for $6.50 at some dreary college town) the record store clerk (either a skinny near-sighted male with low muscle mass, or a semi-attractive girl hosting a regretful “tramp stamp” with inconsolable mother issues) would be like all “[sigh] what a dipshit this guy for earnestly listening to The Smiths; that is like so 1996 like way back when I was already aware of Morrissey’s self-reflexive mockery of bourgeois ennui and depression, haha. Choad.” Because of this, a sincere man must buy said album for $9.98 from iTunes in the privacy of his own apartment because he cannot bear the disregard.
2. Waiter at recently gentrified “foodie” neighborhood. They encourage you to have the $22 dollar chanterelle scallops, but you get the $9 dollar burger; they say the $12 dollar cauliflower soup with fried sage is “phenomenal,” but you get the $0 dollar tap water. They are working for per-percentage tips and trying to increase the bill, but you show up hungry and post-top ramen ghetto. It doesn’t help that they have a sleeve of tattoos under the white pressed shirt and you are wearing last season’s 30% discount Old Navy. Fact is, you rolled into this hip fusion joint to impress a date but pretty much know the only magic occurring tonight will be your disappearing checking account; you want out, cheap as possible. Meanwhile, your date is wetting her lips at the 6 ft. tall European sommelier and you figure okay, she can have her Pinot under the milky way, just get me home under $80 dollars, including cab fare. You lay down a 16.5% tip and lover boy rolls his eyes. You ask for the saffron Polenta to go, and he simply asks you to go.
3. Book store clerk. Let’s say you want to buy Catcher in the Rye for your 16-year-old niece who is having difficulty assimilating into her junior year at high school (never mind the aggressive acne, that is hardly the point). Now let’s say you go to a local book store, and some future cat lady with a B.A. in English from some New England town sees you lay the book on the counter and thinks to herself “oh-my-god-like who in the world hasn’t read this over-rated book?” and you want to reply “n-no you don’t understand — this is for my niece okay? When you were 16, you probably really liked this book too, and just because you’re like 26 now don’t mean the book is any worse; it just means you are past that time in your life, which is totally legit n’ cool, but please don’t shit on this experience for every single sad and confused 16-year-old just because you happened to have been born first, like big freaking deal so your dad popped a load into yer mom a decade earlier.” You want to say this, and maybe ask her out, but end up staring at your feet, hoping that this transaction will be over soon. Oh Salinger, these phonies.
4. People with severe dietary restrictions. They may be vegetarian, vegan, “freegan,” or will only eat local or raw foods; or maybe their dietary constraints are religious, like Jews/pork, Hindus/beef, etc. Or maybe it’s as dissent against the corporate food industry and their ethically suspect agricultural practices. You will often hear “free range,” “organic,” “grass fed,” and “farmer’s market” spoken in ingratiating tones; and “fast food,” “heavily processed,” and “factory farmed” spoken with derision. Point is, order off the menu and spend the subsequent dinner awkwardly listening to their soap-box spiel about the complicated and philosophically rigorous lineage regarding their dietary beliefs to which they eventually came. Those with severe dietary restrictions, generally self-involved and morally righteous, enjoy nothing more than to monopolize dinner conversation by being at its center. Politics is an accessory, and these people are so shiny.
5. Erotic dancer. I once (okay, a “handful” of times) patronized “The Lusty Lady,” a progressive co-op peep show joint in San Francisco’s North Beach district. Therein, behind plates of glass, beautiful women would make erotically provocative gestures in self-moderated slow motion while sexually frustrated and depleted men, in tiny booths spanning the circumference of the room in which these ladies performed, fed popular denominations of US currency ($1, $5, $10, $20) into the meter in order to prolong visual engagement with the dancer, who would look at me with a kind of maternal disappointment and sadness, as if thinking “poor man, poor boy, your barren eyes and pinky prick are making me so dry.” The army of roses tattooed on her body conspired against me, same as the world which led me in here. She’d smile an apparition of a kiss, plant her dark mistreated nipple against the other side of the glass, and laugh as my mouth watered and heart wavered. Mama, I thought; but she was long gone, as was my last dollar.