Thursday, October 16, 2003

she said, incredulously

I had lunch at Panera bread, on my way back after running some errands. As the woman behind the register stood poised to ring up my order, she gave me this look of incredulity, repeated my order, and then asked a question I didn't hear.

"What?" I said. I was trying to think of what it was that could be spurring this reaction from her.

"Anything else?" she repeated, with another look of incredulity.

"No," I said. I don't know if I was audibly defensive, but I certainly felt that way. What had I done to incur this woman's incredulity? I was just trying to have some normal, diet-consistent lunch. I started to think that it was maybe that I was having lunch by myself or wondering if there was something desperately amiss with my appearance or if I had inadvertently broken some social norm again, etc.

As I was waiting for my order, I surreptitiously studied the woman longer. I even did this for awhile as I was eating the meal. The look of incredulity remained, which led me to conclude that it must not have been me. I thought something must have gone wrong at work, and she was responding to it with this fixed look like she was saying "Whatever" over and over in her had.

But, after awhile, I got it: this was the way her face was all the time. The default state of her face looked like it was actually a series of meaningful movements away from a default state, which together combined to the same set of features that an ordinary person who knows the word incredulity would think, why is she looking at me with such incredulity. Day after day, this woman ("Penelope" her name tag said) has strangers interacting with her and walking away wondering what she is all incredulous about. I wonder if people whose faces suggest some emotion that they aren't actually feeling have any kind of advocacy group helping others to understand their plight.

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