On surveys, guilt and making the world a better place

The fact that I had carefully laid out a plan for myself Monday - work out, get some coffee and do a little writing, then do a few errands such as buying some appropriate clothes for an office environment - didn't really save me from the fate I eventually succumbed to, a.k.a. I went shopping, and not just for the necessities mentioned above, but for, like, some new makeup and these really cute black heels that were on sale at Nordstrom, and before you go saying I shouldn't have even gone into Nordstrom, not having a real job and all, let me just mention that upon arriving I realized that it was the MID YEAR SALE at Nordstrom, and I know you guys will understand and forgive me. Normally, when I have things I need to shop for (and not too much to spend) the task becomes tiresome, boring. I might need brown boots, for instance, or a black cardigan (and watch it, people, probably men, who I'm sure are muttering things like, "you don't ever NEED brown boots," believe me, sometimes you do) and because I feel I need the item, and am not simply looking around at all the fashionable, wonderful things I don't need, not at all, shopping becomes a chore. It doesn't happen often, but it happens from time to time.

This, luckily, was not one of those times. This was one of those other times, when, in addition to efficiently finding the things you need, at a reasonable price, you also find other things you need at a reasonable price, and - the best part of all - you discover it is Clinique Bonus time, and if you spend enough money at the Clinique counter, they'll give you an adorable little travel bag full of makeup samples. Will you use them? Who knows. But you will certainly go home and lay take them out and love them dearly and try them on and celebrate the joy and esctasy that is free makeup, especially free Clinique makeup, which is especially nice.

The thing was, that after having amassed several bags full of things I maybe didn't need, per se, but that I had really, really enjoyed purchasing, I started to feel guilty. I don't think anyone should ever feel guilty for shopping from time to time. There isn't much better therapy than just going out and doing some nice things for yourself and not feeling bad about it. You're worth it, you know? But I started feeling guilty anyway, because despite the fact that I had, indeed, gotten some work done earlier in the day, I mean, it was Monday. And not even Monday night, but Monday, early afternoon, when most people were getting into their workweek and making a living and such, and it is at these times that I start thinking about how I left my job to go on vacation (I'm not romanticizing it anymore: I left my job to go on vacation) and that I should be home, and if not working, at least doing something sort of unpleasant, like creating Excel spreadsheets documenting our future financial plans.

Since I was already at the mall and not exactly ready to go home, I did what I could, and sauntered down near the Macy's, and tried my best to look available. See, there are these market research people who stand down at that end of the mall with clipboards and try and talk people into doing surveys. I'm sure people who live down here and go to the mall have seen them from time to time, maybe even taken them up on their seemingly-shady offers. I always do. First, they ask if you have a few moments to be part of a survey, get some initial information, and then take you around the corner to this office with little cubicles and various products, mostly food. Once there, you realize the alleged "few moments" is a total crock and this is going to take a while because they are going to ask you about 12 million questions about granola bars. Or fried onions. Or cookies (but honestly, who doesn't want to be asked 12 million questions about cookies? Cookies deserve that attention.)

If you're curious why I always participate, why, on a totally free day dedicated to shopping I'd willingly spend half an hour in a kind of dirty little office rating salty snacks on a scale of 1-10, well, there are a couple reasons. Basically, I'm a sucker for surveys. Anyone can come up to me, at any time, whether I'm in a hurry or not, and I'll participate. Part of it is that I like to help out. No, really. I do. Whether it's women's health or juice boxes, I like being part of the grand movement. I like knowing I've made a contribution that could change something - great or small.

Secondly, and more selfishly, these surveys usually result in some sort of humorous, or at least interesting, interaction with my fellow human beings. And that's one of my favorite things. I like to spend my time talking to strangers and asking them a lot of questions about what they're up to. Sure, you might find this strange, but if someone said I could have a job participating in a lot of surveys and then writing about the experience, I'd probably say, "Alright, I'm in."

But the big pull with these mall surveys is that they pay you. I've been paid as little as $5 and as much as $17. Cash. Sometimes you get to take food samples home with you, too. So needless to say when I was feeling bad about having spent all that money on myself, I went down there looking like I had all the time in the world, glancing from store to store as if to say, "Gee, so much stuff. I don't know where to start! I wish some kind soul would ask me to come sit in their office for a while and talk about where I normally do most of my shopping and my household income." My natural inclination towards looking like this - friendly, open, innocent - is why, I think, I got invited to join a well-known Boston-based cult in college. I said no, thanks, after talking to this really nice woman for, like, 20 minutes and then suddenly realizing, with a gasp, that this was exactly what our resident advisors had warned us about.

The more aggressive survey-takers try for everybody, but from time to time you see one of them standing around, looking coy and innocent, and you just know they're not really working for their commission. Those are the ones you have to cater to. This interaction - between the interviewer and interviewee - is one I've carefully studied in my work as a reporter as well, to the point where I can scan a room and figure out, in mere seconds, who I'm going to go up and talk to. You don't want to waste your time on people who don't want to talk, especially if their name is going to be in print, or who, on the other hand, are going to waste a good deal of your precious time going off about the current political administration and then say they don't want you to quote them, because they don't trust the media.

J, apparently, is pretty good about looking like he's got the time and won't say no as well. I know, because one night he came home with an ultra shiny fingernail, and explained to me that the people at the "All Things Natural" nail care booth in the mall had accosted him and he'd allowed them to buff his his index finger, massage his cuticle with vanilla-scented lotion.

There were a a bunch of people from the market research group out recruiting Monday and getting in for an interview was a cinch. I made a little money, which was good, and helped get rid of the guilty feeling. Was it more than I spent? Definitely not. But it was a good reward for the hard work I'd done. Really hard work. In fact, after answering like, the 50th question ("How would you rate the nut clusters among other nut products? Extremely different, very different, somewhat different, not very different or not different at all?") I started thinking about how I'd like to get a manicure, and got distracted. It was difficult to concentrate, but I did, for the good of my shopping habit and for the good of humanity.