I’m fascinated with the Kavanaugh case, and have been asking anyone I see what they think about it.
I asked a Dominican friar his opinion while shepherding him to a monastery in North Guilford, CT. I brought it up while playing Pickleball, a game where it’s possible to chitchat and play at the same time. People tolerated me for awhile before reminding me to focus on the game.
I can’t help it. This is what used to be called a talker in newspaper jargon before the advent of social media. A talker is a story that everyone’s discussing and has an opinion about, the prime topic of conversation around the water cooler. It’s something that would be the topic of a man on the street question, if newspapers still did man on the street questions.
No newspapers bother with this feature anymore because everyone is on Facebook and other sites shouting their opinions for the masses. But little has changed about about people in the past 25 years, as I found out today.
I tried to poll friends about their opinion on the Kavanaugh controversy and take their photo for this piece. Only one person, my buddy Johnny B, was willing to oblige. Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do this as part of my job any more.
Man on the Street was a weekly feature at the small newspapers where I cut my teeth, and like any dreaded assignment, was passed around to different staffers. I don’t know anyone who enjoyed it because it involved approaching strangers, asking them about hot-button topics, and then asking them to take their photo.
On the weeks you were unlucky enough to pull the assignment, you got a question, a 35 mm Pentax manual camera and hit the streets, looking for people who might be willing to share their views and have their photo taken.
I hated this assignment because it required a bit of bravery to approach strangers and ask them their opinion on often controversial issues. I love to interview people, but I don’t much care for approaching strangers and being shut down before I even finish my spiel.
I approached this assignment with dread. I would spend an awful lot of time assessing people and whether they looked approachable and agreeable. I thought of this last weekend when a young girl approached me in the parking lot of CVS and asked me to buy a discount card supporting her field hockey team.
“I already got one at the parade honey,” I said, letting her down as easily as possible. It was true, but I could tell she was disappointed. She had a slight speech impediment, so I’m sure it’s not easy for her to approach strangers. I felt her pain because it’s not easy to have people say no.
I think approaching strangers and asking them to buy things is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Some people don’t mind rejection, but I’m the sensitive type. I don’t like to be told no, and I certainly don’t appreciate being rejected.
I once watched a knife demonstration in Walmart with a bunch of other suckers because I felt sorry for the salesman. He was one helluva huckster, gathering a group of eight people to watch his demo with the promise of a free paring knife. No one bought his knives, but he didn’t seem to mind. He seemed happy enough to have an audience to hear his pitch.
Asking people for their opinion doesn’t cost anything, but most people are reluctant to give you their view and go on the record with it. I’d say I had a 30 percent success rate, meaning 70 percent of the time people told me to take a hike. It was more like a 90 percent rejection rate among my friends today.
For the record, I found men were much more willing to be photographed than women. And men were much more open to being approached by a female reporter wanting to pick their brain and photograph them. Most women would share their feelings, and then run away when the subject of a photo came up. This meant their comments, and the time it took to get them, were a complete waste of time.
Yea, women were terribly vain, much more concerned with their appearance than guys. But maybe it would be easier to get them today in this era of selfies and I-Phones. I could keep snapping photos until we found one that was acceptable, using filters and other editing tools.
A young woman once agreed to answer my question and have her photo taken because she said it looked like I was going to cry if she said no. She was right. I felt about as welcome as those people with clipboards who approach you in malls, or the solar guy in Home Depot.
Though I detested doing the Man on the Street feature, I always enjoyed reading it. For me, it was an informal snapshot of what people were thinking about pressing and not-so-pressing issues. I was dating the Curmudgeon and slipped in a Valentine’s Day question: “Who’s more romantic, men or women?” His reply: Men. A photo of him with the most adorable puppy eyes accompanied his answer. I had him where I wanted him, at least at that point in our relationship. Now, the tables have turned, but that’s another story.
So I’ve been doing my own little man on the street bit over the past few days, asking anybody and everybody for their opinion on Kavanaugh’s nomination. One of my favorite answers has been from my pal Barb, retired teacher, mom, grandma, and a product of the ’60s women’s movement.
“Nominate a woman and this isn’t an issue,” she screamed across the net. Well, she does have point.
When I said that I’m not sure the women’s testimony will matter in the end, Barb raised her eyebrows and lowered her paddle. “I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “You may be surprised.”
I remember watching Anita Hill’s testimony and feeling that Clarence Thomas was not the most qualified person in the country for the U.S. Supreme Court. But it didn’t matter. He was confirmed despite Hill’s claims that he sexually harassed her. I’d hate for women to come forward and state their case just to have their comments ignored. That would be an incredible waste of everyone’s time.
Kavanaugh’s accusers are putting themselves through an awful lot of trouble to tell their stories. And if they’re going to that trouble and the Senate Judiciary Committee is willing to listen, I hope they’ll actually listen and have an open mind. That’s all anyone can really ask of this process.
Of course, I must tell you what my friend Johnny B. thinks because he was the only one brave enough to go on record and have his photo taken.
“I think because it’s such an important decision, it warrants an FBI investigation,” he said.