So What Do You Do?

Eric back in 1985 when he first started explaining himself

Eric back in 1985 when he first started explaining himself

You might think having your own penguin store is fun. Especially when it’s exclusively on-line. I get to pretty much make my own hours, I’m my own boss, it’s fun and great outlet to be creative, and it’s especially fulfilling if you really do love penguins like I do.  Not to mention I can’t get fired.  But, as my family and I have recently migrated  to Northampton, Mass from our longtime home in Brooklyn NY we’ ve all been busy this past summer meeting and greeting  friends in our adopted hometown.  My wife has a new job and with it new work buddies, my kids were in camp this summer and now are in school and have quickly made new friends.  Our transition  so far has gone surprisingly smoothly, but for me I now find myself feeling a bit awkward  as I keep answering the question “so what do you do?” from just about everyone I meet, be it my kids friends parents, people at the gym, guys I play ball with, folks at the school PTA meeting, locals at the  bagel store, people at playgrounds, bartenders, grocery clerks, workers behind the counter at coffee shops, video store clerks, etc.  Just about anyone I meet and strike up a conversation with will inevitably ask that standard  what do you do question in short order.  Back in NY where I lived my whole life just about everyone already knew what I did, and I only had to answer this query every once in a while, but up here it’s been coming up at a fast and furious pace.  Obviously, I want to be polite, make new friends and wrankle as few feathers as possible, but the question as innocent as it sounds quickly grows tiresome at the pace of 5 – 10 times a day depending on how much I get out,  and that simple question  does not stand alone as soon as I answer it. The simple reply “I sell penguins, not real penguins mind you, but anything to do with penguins, you know t-shirts, jewelry, salt & pepper shakers, calendars, etc,”  invariably raises a very quick eyebrow or three and then leads to a multitude of follow up questions. “What kind of penguins? “Why penguins? “How did you start?  Do that many people really like penguins? How long have you been doing this? ”  You get the picture.  Each answer invariably invites a follow up question and the process can stretch on for a while.  Many times the dialog does a 360 and  questions begin to repeat themselves as if the person doesn’t truly believe me the first time. Sometimes, I can preempt and answer most of the questions with one prolonged opening statement, and if I play if just right, I can quickly turn the table and ask the person what they do,  then try to look as interested and fascinated as possible. Even if they run the shoe concession at the local bowling alley or bus tables at the Applebees on Route 9, if I can get them talking about themselves  for a bit they may forget about me being “the penguin guy” just long enough for me to make a socially acceptable exit without me spending more than a couple of minutes explaining myself. That is until the next day when I get introduced to one of my new friends pals which invariably goes along the lines of  “Hey, this is that guy Eric I told you about, you know, the one who sells nothing but penguins…” and with a polite forced smile on my face here I go again.  I figure that there’s 30,000 people in Northampton so I have about another 6 – 9 months of explaining.  I may complain, but you know I really love it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: