the tactics of a pretty girl

Old Tricks

Yesterday, I made the pretty girl cry at my tutoring job. I told her she needed to do the page of word problems that she didn’t understand. I told her that she couldn’t skip it because she needed the practice, that she’d have lots more word problems before her schooling was finished. She’s in middle school. She did not want to work. She worked very hard not to work, but I insisted. She could not skip that page.

So, she started crying.

It was that simple. All the men came to her assistance, as if pheromones of a damsel in distress had been released into the air. Every one of them wanted her to be freed from her terrible burden. And not a soul in the room got anything accomplished for the rest of the hour. The pretty girl had worked for ten minutes and missed two problems out of four. But she got what she wanted. She cried.

I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve never told anyone until this morning when I told Mike.

I can cry on cue. I can produce real tears. I can use it to change the outcome of an event that is about to happen.

Here’s an example: In New Jersey, the police have quotas for speeding tickets, so at the end of every month, you’re going to get stopped. I lived there in my twenties, back in the days when I was cute, especially in a seated position where you couldn’t see that I had no waist and wasn’t very well endowed. At the end of the month, when I was on my way to work and forgot, when the speedometer crept to five miles over the speed limit, I’d invariably get stopped by a police officer.

One time, I could tell by looking in the rearview mirror that it wasn’t going to be enough to tell the officer that I was so sorry. It wasn’t going to be enough to bat my long eyelashes at him. The tell was his swagger and the way he rested his hand on his gun as he approached my car. Machismo oozed out of his pores, stank up fifty square yards around him.

So, before he reached my car window, I got to work. I tilted my head forward. I thought of the most devastating thing I could recall. Remember that summer after my dad and my grandpa had both died and I was only fourteen? I was so lonely that summer. And I was on my own in this big state of New Jersey and I was still so lonely. It helped when I could tease any truth out of the situation. I let my shoulders shake just a little at the thought of all that loneliness.

I still didn’t have tears though. It takes some energy to produce tears, but I let my fear of this uber-policeman take over. He’d have the power to leave me half dead in a ditch if he wanted. I stalled for time by struggling with the window crank.

Remember window cranks? They were great if you needed more time.

So, by the time I got the window down and lifted my head to the man standing with his arms crossed and his feet planted wide apart outside my car door, I had a glistening glob of a tear in one eye.

“I’m so sorry, Officer. Is something wrong?” I said with a hint of my hometown twang.

We both knew that I had been going five and a half miles over the speed limit.

“Ma’am, I clocked you at sixty-two miles per hour in a fifty-five zone.”

I didn’t quibble about his padded number. I would swear that the whole department cranked their calibration up to as high as they could go without being out of specs.

“Was I?” I said and looked up at him, opening my eyes a little wider than normal. I thought hard about that long lonely summer when I was fourteen. More tears pooled there but didn’t spill. Then, I sighed and looked down before going into my spiel.

“I’m really sorry. I was trying to get onto Route 9 and I always get so confused at Route 9 when I want to get onto Route 1 going south. I was so turned around and I must have gotten flustered and this stupid map doesn’t show Ninth Street in Hackensack. Is there any way, after you give me my ticket, that you can tell me how to get to Ninth Street in Hackensack?”

I blinked a single tear onto my cheek.

Did you see how I used diversionary tactics there? This was a war against the unfair system of ticketing quotas and I used my best battle plans. First, I apologized profusely. I didn’t use big words, and I managed to look utterly dumb and lost. Police officers are the connoisseurs of giving directions to lost girls. The last ploy I used was to pretend to assume I was already getting a ticket, to lie down and play dead.

“Why yes, I think I could help you with that, ma’am.”

“Do you need to see my license?”

“Well, there may not be any need for that, ma’am. Are you going to the east side of Hackensack or the west side?”

I handed him my poorly-folded New Jersey state map upside-down. If I looked too organized, it wouldn’t be authentic. I kept that map on the passenger seat under my purse. I’d gotten the officer to thinking about the best route to take to Ninth Street in Hackensack and he needed to focus. Ninth Street was one of those roads that ended in one block and started up again four blocks to the west.

And then, he spent nearly twenty minutes giving me directions to a place I had no intention of going. I did not act impatient. It was so hard. I smiled a watery smile and listened to the first four turns carefully, in case he followed me to make sure I was on the right track. The good ones always did and I didn’t want him, even after he’d let me go, to realize it was all a ruse.

And that is how a pretty girl can get out of getting a speeding ticket in New Jersey, despite the monthly quotas. The teary eyes were a subtle touch that seemed to work every time.

So, when I saw a show of tears from the pretty girl in the room, I knew what I was looking at. She didn’t want to do the word problems. And dammit, she knew how to get out of doing them.

Maybe I should try tears on her next time she objects. I haven’t tested the power of making grandma cry.

Thank you for listening, jules