Shopping


We head to the grocery store.  A man stands at the entrance next to a bowl of sliced clementines.  He wears glasses with black frames.  He has curly hair, verging on messy.  He’s thin and tall and has his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans.  In a horrible monotone, he welcomes us to the store.  I barely nod and veer around him, because to approach his sample display; to take a piece of fruit would lock me into some invisible and unknown contract; it would oblige me to something greater than just groceries.

Near the produce, a man stands behind a glass device—a hot machine with a large lamp at the top.  The man tosses in a flattish brown disc and shuts the door.  Ten seconds later—WHOMP!—the disc pops and expands and the air fills with the odor of hot buttered popcorn.  No one, I notice, stops to investigate this device further. 


Further on, another man wheels a silver cart along the bank of checkout stands and yells out, “hot, fresh Italian bread!  Ninety-nine cents.”  No one stops to take a loaf from his silver cart.

Ahead of us, a thin man leans heavily upon his cart.  He wears a white button-down shirt tucked into his jeans.  And on his head, he wears a bicycle helmet.  He stands at the end of the aisle, intently studying his list, pausing to look at the overhead signs before wheeling on to the next aisle.  A woman passes.  Stares at him.  Laughs. 

We finish our shopping and when we head out the door, this same man tells us to have a good day in the same bored tone.  I giggle to myself and roll my eyes at my husband.  I find that the man irritates me.  No, not the man himself.  I find the need for a greeter irritating.  It feels like a farce, paying a person to be polite.  The grocery store is trying to tack a human face on a largely impersonal transaction.

How must it feel, I wonder, greeting everyone who enters?  How must it feel to say goodbye to customers pushing carts full of bursting bags, their contents straining against the confines of blue plastic?

And then, I realize, after I’ve walked past the man with barely a glance: He must feel invisible.  He must feel unimportant.  He must feel irrelevant.
* * *
I pick up my meat and dairy from my local farmer.  While the farmer chats with another customer, I wait at the table.  I find my name on the list and check it off.  I stack my empty egg cartons with the other returns.  I hold my empty cream jar to wait for my refund.  I tell Squints what cooler holds our purchases and he heads over to empty it into our own cooler.  I don’t mind this waiting.  Talking with the farmer—the farmer who greets me by name every week—is one of the best parts of buying locally. 

A woman approaches the table.  She wears a long brown coat sweater and brown boots.  She leans in front of me; runs a red fingernail down the list to find her name.  I take a step back.  She moves forward to fill the gap.  I frown at V.  I set my empty jar on the table and slide my check beneath the metal cash box.

I feel invisible.

I feel unimportant. 

I feel irrelevant. 

And the next time I go to that grocery store, I’ll return that man’s greeting. 

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even take a sample. 

Labels: ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Shopping

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shopping


We head to the grocery store.  A man stands at the entrance next to a bowl of sliced clementines.  He wears glasses with black frames.  He has curly hair, verging on messy.  He’s thin and tall and has his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans.  In a horrible monotone, he welcomes us to the store.  I barely nod and veer around him, because to approach his sample display; to take a piece of fruit would lock me into some invisible and unknown contract; it would oblige me to something greater than just groceries.

Near the produce, a man stands behind a glass device—a hot machine with a large lamp at the top.  The man tosses in a flattish brown disc and shuts the door.  Ten seconds later—WHOMP!—the disc pops and expands and the air fills with the odor of hot buttered popcorn.  No one, I notice, stops to investigate this device further. 


Further on, another man wheels a silver cart along the bank of checkout stands and yells out, “hot, fresh Italian bread!  Ninety-nine cents.”  No one stops to take a loaf from his silver cart.

Ahead of us, a thin man leans heavily upon his cart.  He wears a white button-down shirt tucked into his jeans.  And on his head, he wears a bicycle helmet.  He stands at the end of the aisle, intently studying his list, pausing to look at the overhead signs before wheeling on to the next aisle.  A woman passes.  Stares at him.  Laughs. 

We finish our shopping and when we head out the door, this same man tells us to have a good day in the same bored tone.  I giggle to myself and roll my eyes at my husband.  I find that the man irritates me.  No, not the man himself.  I find the need for a greeter irritating.  It feels like a farce, paying a person to be polite.  The grocery store is trying to tack a human face on a largely impersonal transaction.

How must it feel, I wonder, greeting everyone who enters?  How must it feel to say goodbye to customers pushing carts full of bursting bags, their contents straining against the confines of blue plastic?

And then, I realize, after I’ve walked past the man with barely a glance: He must feel invisible.  He must feel unimportant.  He must feel irrelevant.
* * *
I pick up my meat and dairy from my local farmer.  While the farmer chats with another customer, I wait at the table.  I find my name on the list and check it off.  I stack my empty egg cartons with the other returns.  I hold my empty cream jar to wait for my refund.  I tell Squints what cooler holds our purchases and he heads over to empty it into our own cooler.  I don’t mind this waiting.  Talking with the farmer—the farmer who greets me by name every week—is one of the best parts of buying locally. 

A woman approaches the table.  She wears a long brown coat sweater and brown boots.  She leans in front of me; runs a red fingernail down the list to find her name.  I take a step back.  She moves forward to fill the gap.  I frown at V.  I set my empty jar on the table and slide my check beneath the metal cash box.

I feel invisible.

I feel unimportant. 

I feel irrelevant. 

And the next time I go to that grocery store, I’ll return that man’s greeting. 

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even take a sample. 

Labels: ,

2 Comments:

At January 1, 2012 at 12:25 PM , Anonymous Elizabeth Young said...

When I first came to Canada many years ago, before you departed the check-out line at K-Mart with your purchases, the Cashier would say: "Thank you for shopping and saving at K-Mart," in the dreaded monotone. Whilst I loved K-Mart and spent many a happy Saturday night in there wandering aimlessly around, whilst my husband took care of the children at home, I absolutely hated that slogan and desperately wanted to say: "Don't SAY that to me!" It made both of us drones instead of people.

 
At January 1, 2012 at 12:54 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

You know, I don't remember K-Marts in Canada. I do remember Canadian Tire, though! That was definitely the go-to place for shopping when we lived there.

Happy New Year, Elizabeth!

 

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