This writing short is of an encounter with a charity representative on the Friday after work. It got me thinking and it got me Googling. It was an unusual, if not strange, encounter so I thought I’d write something. I hope the guy I spoke to was genuine. I do believe he was.
On the back of a late night Jarrah Hot Choc ☕ is this story. #suddenlyinspired
In the Detail
I have never understood how you’re supposed to sign away your details on spending five minutes with a charity sales representative.
This Friday afternoon walking in the opposite direction of a hospital, after staring at spreadsheets all day, I was stopped by a guy dressed in a white lab coat. He waved me down. I thought he needed help. Turned out he wanted to show me a packet of something.
‘Take a look at this,’ he said. He had light brown hair, pale skin, and rosy cheeks. He was pretty enough to be a member of a boy band.
He handed me a packet of powder. I’m not sure how he did. The exchange was seamless.
I suppose I was distracted, trying to figure out which boy band he could be a pseudo member of. He had a bit of Alex Band from The Calling going for him. Maybe a touch of Kian Egan from Westlife? Mixed with Take That’s Gary Barlow, a younger version perhaps? I’ve put too much thought into this.
My naïve brain jumped at the thought: ‘He’s handed me something nefarious! Something illegal! He’s a dealer? I was expecting something a little more subtle? It’s no wonder school kids get caught up in this.’
I looked at the packet.
It said ‘Plumpy Nuts’.
Not what I had been thinking. The incredulity of seconds ago vanished. In its place was a shred of intrigue.
I decided against walking off. He had managed to get my attention. I’d spare a minute to hear him out.
‘What’s the number one killer of children?’ he asked.
‘Close. Diarrhoea,’ he advised before launching in to facts about the product in front of me. Nutritional information the live version was far more entertaining than reading off a cereal box.
He continued, ‘How much do you think one pack costs?’
It was like a ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ question, minus the million at stake, the multi-choice options, Eddie McGuire, Eddie McGuire asking what I do for a living, Eddie McGuire wanting to know my hobbies, my edge-of-your-seat lifelines.
I decided to reason out loud any way.
‘Well, they’re probably mass produced. You’re asking me, so it must be something ridiculous. Can’t be expensive. Probably really cheap.’ I paused, the silence an amplifying, dramatic effect, bugger I needed an adbreak, ‘Fifty-cents?’
‘Almost, you’re ten-cents off. They’re forty-cents. Imagine how many children could be fed with a monthly donation.’
Before I could let my imagination run wild, he reached for his iPad. It was here that the charity he represented was revealed. On the corner of the iPad screen was the logo: Médecins Sans Frontièrs. It was strange, he hadn’t mentioned it, nor was he wearing anything to identify himself as a representative of the charity, nor was his setup any kind of charity stall. Donations must have been down. There was just his backpack on the ground and a couple of boxes. There were no flyers or anything to remotely indicate he was a bona fide rep. There was nothing to suggest this wasn’t a scam. There were two of them. His colleague had the attention of another passerby. His colleague had grey hair. He could have been the boy band’s manager. The iPad screen was open to a sign up page. I noted at a glance it required the donor’s name, date of birth, and address. Why did they need a bunch of details straight up? It was a donation after all. Why did they require a date of birth?
He told me I could sign up today. I’d receive a free welcome pack to show my commitment to this program. That was supposed to convince me.
I nodded slowly. Nodding would convey my acknowledgement, and combined with the relative pace of nodding, my reservation. I thought I was being subtle.
The next two minutes did not go as he had planned. You see, he had lost me with the sign up page asking for too much too soon. It was time for me to get back on track. Quite literally: I had a train to catch.
‘Thanks for the information. That’s very interesting and I’ll certainly be Googling ‘Plumpy Nuts’, was it? That’s good work.’ I honestly wanted to Google it.
He closed the distance between us, encroaching but marginally missing the boundaries of personal space. ‘What’s stopping you from signing up today?’
‘Look, I’ll go on the website. I like doing my research,’ I replied.
‘Or you could just sign up today?’ he repeated inching the iPad closer. It looked like a real MSF page. That said nothing of the veracity of the page or the security of information entered.
‘I could, but I can always sign up on the website. Like I said, I’ll be Googling Plumpy Nuts,’ I said trying to best convey enthusiasm about the cause and uninterest in his.
‘You could sign up right now?’ he prompted again. There was a demand there. He’d made the question into a statement.
‘I’ll go on the website,’ I said again. Unable to stop myself I added: ‘Also, I’m not exactly comfortable entering all my details right now into what really is a random iPad’. In hindsight, I should have just been honest and mentioned that dentist appointment I had been putting off, got around to booking, and was ‘Oh, would you look at the time?’ running late for. That, or the infinitely better options hindsight has divulged.
He took that as cue to state that it was in their terms and conditions to take privacy seriously. I’m not sure if it occurred that at this point my doubts were about him and his operation.
Despite which, I did think he was being genuine.
Even if he had appeared as legitimate as you could represent with these things, I’d still have gone with a click to the website. Research is fun, unlike wet socks. Or for that matter, getting scammed.
I made one more mention of the website to which he looked at me as if I was a freak. His face was screaming all things paranoid and tin-foil hat. He was taking this personally. What was my problem?
The air was thick with non-verbal cussing.
I’d implied there were issues with the legitimacy of his whole setup. I’d implied he might be a fraud.
No boy band member likes to hear the truth. They were concerns nonetheless.
I’d tried subtlety. It hadn’t worked.
‘Look mate, I’m going to be wasting your time. Nothing you say is going to make me sign up. Like I said, I like doing my research and the website will be there when I get on to Googling Plumpy Nuts. I appreciate the info. Cheerio.’ Blimey, I’d carried on with more indignance than intended.
‘Okay,’ he said backing off.
He returned to more non-verbalised cussing.
He had gone from passionate to pushy to peeved in the space of five minutes. I’d repeated myself like a broken record.
The earbuds were back in as I walked to the station.
I bookmarked the Wikipedia page to ‘Plumpy Nuts’ so I wouldn’t forget the name.
I changed my mind about him. He couldn’t be a pseudo member of any good boy band. He might’ve had the looks but, like everything, it was in the detail—and I hadn’t had to look far. He didn’t have the voice for it.
I hit shuffle.
‘No Matter What’ came on for my listening pleasure.
Dulcet tones told me: ‘No matter what they tell us. No matter what they do …. What we believe is true.’
There’s a real message in that.