Sunday, October 10, 2010

Want, Need - a short essay on a big topic

In 1982 I had a short stint working weekends at the Dallas Granada, then an art-house movie theater. At that age and stage I was so self-conscious I could barely move in front of strangers – my happiest hours as a theater employee were spent cleaning the parking lot. (Even though that particular job dirtied my new leather K-Swiss, but the manager said he appreciated my hard work, so at the time I thought that made it OK.) My scariest hours were spent sweeping popcorn off the lobby carpet (the manager didn’t like my technique and loudly told me so – he was no kind of an introvert) and much worse, waiting on customers. Actually all I did at the snack counter was scoop up popcorn and put butter on it while a more mature, outgoing employee asked order-related questions (thank God) and rang up the sale (really, thank God). My only verbal interaction was asking customers if they wanted butter.

Well, the manager’s supersonic ears picked up on my poor delivery of that question. “Don’t ask, 'Do you want butter on that'! You should say, 'WOULD YOU LIKE butter on that'!”

I was SO embarrassed. A Scholl of Tomball, an “A” student, daughter of an English major, and I had to have my grammar corrected. All I can say in my defense is that I thought I sounded professional regardless of grammar and was trying to present a casual (hahahaha) persona.

I think that was one of my last nights at the theater. This was a 2nd job for me and after a month I still dreaded every shift. I didn’t have the awareness or labels back then to say, this is not a good job for me since with my personality I am not comfortable dealing with the public. (Or being yelled at by a petty despot.) Rather than give a generic reason for resigning – maybe I didn’t know of any, being 22 and really na├»ve – what I said was “I am having some emotional problems.” To which the shift supervisor – not the manager – said, “Oh, me too! I hope we can stay in touch!” (We didn’t.) My next moonlighting job was…waiting on customers at a doughnut store! After that, waiting on customers in the Dillard’s lingerie department. So sad that entry-level jobs are seldom suited for the introverted…

The movie theater manager’s phrase correction has always stuck with me. Not just because I was embarrassed to be corrected – and because I think the manager overreacted, I’m sure I WAS professional – and this was a sticky-floored, hole-in-the-upholstery little theater anyway, why was he being so lah-de-dah about things – but also because I was told not to use the word “WANT.”

Really, with butter on popcorn, isn’t it Want, not the dainty “like”? When I go to the movie with Craig he usually buys our tickets but then stands 30 feet from the snack counter, waves for me to go stand in line, and says, “I want popcorn with extra butter and a slurpee and raisinettes and a pretzel and a hot dog…” He is kidding (he only wants popcorn and maybe to share a soda), but the “want” part is true. Nobody “likes” spending a fortune on movie snacks. But they “want” to munch and slurp junk food in the dark.

This came up as a blog concept because yesterday when I was at a church craft fair, I announced my purchase decisions as, “I need…the sangria colored pair of earrings (the wine bottle bar light, the green millefiori earrings…)”. Three vendors in a row laughed at the word “need.” The first vendor laughed with me, with the second vendor I directed the laugh at myself…the third vendor laughed in a puzzled way. In fact when I said, “I need the Malbec,” she didn’t realize I was requesting her bar light made from a recycled Malbec bottle, she asked hesitantly, “Are you saying you need a drink?” Said with a nervous laugh.

Why aren’t we – people, adults – supposed to say Want and Need? Does that mean we are spoiled, gluttons? Children – immature?

But why put a wordsmith coating on it? When I click the “purchase” button, haven’t I decided and stated that I Need another original painting…one of the dozens I have bought this year…more than I Need a savings account?

I don’t think Need is a value judgment – or is it? Maybe all of us have gotten that confused.

Most people would agree that Want is not a value judgment – it is a gut desire. The “Should” may be applied to the Want in order to be…adult? (haha)? responsible?

But I guess Need is thought of in a different category – we Need water, oxygen, food. We need recognition, friends, various categories of things, in different intensities of need, to survive and to thrive.

But is it wrong to say, I need this novelty bar light? I need a 500th pair of earrings?

I guess I will keep laughing when I say “I need.” The laughter, real or fake, seems to help navigate the choppy seas of social interaction. And I will only say “I want” within my intimate circle, whatever that is.

I wanted and needed to blog about this. Aaaah. Satisfied! (For now...)

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