On Saturday, I awoke dreading going to my friend’s Disco Party she was throwing for her husband’s birthday that night. I thought about backing out, I imagined staying home, reading books, perhaps even partaking of an activity that has been completely lacking of late—writing! But then I thought of the efforts my friend had put toward the evening: the mirror ball, the stripper pole, the tables of food and fully stocked bar, and I couldn’t say no.
On that same Saturday, I was already looking to Monday, and thinking of wriggling out of my book club meeting. Our book for the bi-month was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is a good read that I highly recommend, but I was only 13% of the way through the book (I know this, because my Kindle does not use page numbers, but does note the percentage). Also, I had a ticket to see Laura at the Academy film noir series. But my friend at the disco party said she was going, and another friend wrote that she was making a pie with strawberries from her garden, and again, I couldn’t say no.
Because the evening’s theme was local and organic foods, I intended to visit a farmer’s market, but fate, in the form of meetings and phone calls, intervened, so I found myself rushing through the nearby Whole Foods, picking up random seasonal items. That’s when I accidentally made eye contact with the massage chair guy in the middle of the store.
“Try a free-sample!” he said, and grabbed my arm, pressing on it. “Ah, you spend a lot of time on a computer?” Yes, I see the tension, here, and here.” Still hanging on to my arm with one hand, he used the other to indicate my neck and shoulders. It felt awkward to rip my hand away, and I knew this was a case where if just one person said yes to a massage, others would follow, but if I said no, he would appear even needier, and the chair would remain empty. And of course, I do love massages, so, after calculating the amount of cash in my wallet, I agreed to ten minutes and sat in the chair, planting my head in the little face-rest.
My assessment of marketing psychology seemed right, because as he worked I could here passing shoppers murmuring about the massage guy. An older woman’s voice asked, “Is that a real person?” Then the voice came closer. “Is that a real person or a mannequin?” Robert-the-massage-guy kept working—perhaps not understanding the question. I flicked my hand to indicated I was a real, live, human, and was rewarded with a surprised yelp, “Ahhhhh!” And the woman scampered away. But when I sat up, five minutes later, there was another shopper loitering nearby, next in line.
I raced to my next meeting, came home to chop my veggies, and checked my daily to-do list…one more task that was a result of my inability to refuse things. Last year, I was unable to refuse the salesman stationed at the entrance to my local grocery store and ordered a subscription to the newspaper.
Although the salesman had promised four papers per week, through some mix-up, we ended up only receiving the Sunday paper, but I never battled this, because it takes me all week to get through the Sunday paper—and often I don’t. Paul had been rolling his eyes each Sunday at the lower rate, but when the automatic renewal rolled around—not at the promotional rate, but at the “regular rate” of $1.50 per paper, the bill did not amuse him at all. It was time to call and cancel. Yesterday I made the call. The woman on the phone made a quick counter offer, “We can offer you additional savings. How about only $1.00 per paper?”
“No, I’m sorry, I understand that’s a good price. But the truth is that we barely read the paper.”
“Well, for our valued customers we are prepared to offer additional savings. How about fifty-cents per paper?”
She was begging. I was the heartless wench giving her love-lorn courter the heave-ho. But I had to stand firm. “No, really, I appreciate the offer, but I called to cancel, and I think that’s what I should do.”
“Well, before we do that, can I tell you about our special promotional offer of nineteen cents per issue?”
“Uh…” I was made speechless by the desperation. I know that for the paper, it’s about maintaining the circulation numbers they report to their advertisers, so as mercenary as it felt, I would be doing them a favor by getting my Sunday paper delivered to my door for less than two dimes. How could I say no?
But in the end, is it so bad? Sure, I’ve gotten scary little writing done, but all said and done, I enjoyed the disco party, and the book club. I maintained old relationships and made little steps at developing newer ones. I’m out $15 bucks, but I enjoyed the massage and I got to scare an old lady. And I like getting the Sunday paper. So maybe the problem is not that I can’t say no, it’s that, for some reason, I always feel like I should.