In Trader Joe’s parking lot, I’d just gotten out of my car and was headed for my trunk to get my shopping bags when I noticed a truck pulling out opposite me. To be courteous, I stood beside my car and waited for the truck to back up. And waited. And waited. When the vehicle finally maneuvered out of the parking place, the driver rolled down her window and yelled, “Don’t give me that look. I know how to drive!”I was shocked. I was being polite and all I got for it was an angry tirade. As the young female driver, who obviously had impulse control issues, sped off, tires screeching, I just stood there for a moment. Why did I deserve such a tongue lashing? This parking-lot rage incident bothered me so much that it played over and over in my head. It made me wonder, Do I have that look? Like Evard Munch’s The Scream or Christine’s when she unmasks the Phantom of the Opera? Did I unconsciously project a withering glance, a disapproving scowl, an impatient glare? Did I hold her gaze a second too long for comfort and make her feel defensive? Does my patient face actually look judgmental?
I started to wonder if my mother was right, “You keep pulling that bad face, young lady, and it’s going to freeze like that.”
Is that why there is so much world strife? We mis-read each other’s faces? I can see that it’s easy to mis-read an eyebrow lifted in curiosity for one lifted in disapproval. Where was Delsarte when you needed him with his universal facial expressions and gestures used by actors in melodramas and silent films. No one mis-read silent film actors. Everyone understood that Pauline that was in peril.
Was I really one of those people who have that look? You know those people. You see them at early bird specials and bank lines. Had I joined their ranks? But, what was “that look?” I started to wonder what else I’d become without my realizing it. I thought about it all day and I realized that I’d become one of those people who grunts when I sit down. I’d become one of those people whose feet bones crack when I get up in the morning. I’d become one of those people who had to stop eating ice cream because it hurts my teeth. Maybe that’s why I have that look.
But what is that look? Anger? Disgust? Do I scrunch my nose like I’ve smelled something unpleasant? So many questions.
Or, is my face merely a blank canvas on which people project their own emotions, do they reframe my face to fit their reality, their bad moods, arguments with their husbands, overdrawn bank accounts.
Now, weeks after the incident, I decided what I should have done. XXX de escallier, as the French say, which literally means going down the stairs, so it’s the comeback you think of after you’ve left, when it’s too late. I should have simply looked at her and flashed a great big smile. Firstly, it’s hard to yell at a person who is smiling, and secondly, a smile is darn hard to mis-read.