Thursday, April 25, 2013

Goofball at the Grocery Store (or Shy Val Strikes Again)

I have a knack for getting myself into the most awkward situations, and the latest is that, in a poorly-thought-out attempt not to embarrass a grocery store employee who obviously had me confused with another shopper last week, I seem to have agreed with his assumption that I have children.  "You dummy!" Mike laughed when I finally, after a week of suffering privately over my socially clumsy interactions with this man, told him what I had (and hadn't) said to this kind and good-intentioned person.  "Why didn't you just correct him?!"  Yes, well, that would have been an easy fix, I see now, more than a week into my repeated almost-daily attempts to try to avoid him.  

This man has worked in the store the entire six years I've shopped there, and we always exchange hellos and make small talk.  He is, as Mike and I have noted numerous times, undoubtedly among the two nicest staff members in the entire supermarket.  Those of you who have worked retail know just how amazing his kind of constant pleasantness with the public is.  I have never been there with children, but for whatever reason, this employee greeted me last week with a cheerful "How are your little ones?" and because I knew ("knew") that he would realize his mistake the second I walked away from him and I didn't want him to feel embarrassed, I simply said, "Oh!  Fine.  Thank you!" and wished him a good day and kind of scampered off.  Strike One.  It threw me off, and I clearly wasn't graceful in my quick getaway, but I thought nothing more of it.  

Until the next time it happened, when he said my "little ones" sure must keep me busy and then asked me if they were in school yet.  You would think that that would have been the moment I'd have corrected him and that we'd have had a good laugh about it and that would be the end of this, but it was not.  Apparently, the words "little ones" set off the Shy Person Panic Alarm in my head, for I felt like I was rooted to that spot of the store aisle and my mind came up with nothing except "Uhh, no."  And I raced toward the checkout lines, leaving this man looking puzzled by my uncharacteristically curt response.  I have been trying to tell myself that surely ("surely"), I must have at least called a more-gracious "Thank you!" or "Have a nice day!" over my shoulder as I ran away, but I don't think I did.  Strike Two.  

And now, more than a week later, because I know the jig is up and I need to correct him--which we all know will now be more mortifying for me than my having corrected his error in the first place would have ever been for him--I have been avoiding this man altogether, unable as of yet to steel myself for what can't help but be a sink-through-the-grocery-store-floor-in-embarrassment moment.  Gah!  The only even somewhat intelligent explanation I have been able to think to offer this person--and it is flimsy at very best--is that I work with children and thought he meant that "my little ones" at work must keep me busy, but. . . flimsy, like I said.  It is all I have come up with, though--Mike is enjoying my predicament too much to be of any help--so one of these days, I need to bite the bullet, seek out the employee (so he doesn't catch me off-guard and throw me further off my game with an inquiry about my kids' names or birthdays or something), and explain (with a fair amount of charming laughter at my own expense, if I can muster it) our "misunderstanding."  I try to tell myself that nice people are nice people and that they're not going to stop being nice just because I have something embarrassing to tell them, and I know the entire encounter, when I do ultimately brace myself to have it, will only take a few seconds, but I am just not ready to deal with this yet, and day after day, I have not been ready.  And that, dear readers, is why I have been doing my food-shopping between 6-7 a.m. this week.  I am actually typing this right after returning from my latest quick-get-to-the-store-before-this-man-starts-his-shift-at-work grocery store jaunt.  How do I get myself into these stupid situations?!  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

As I've gotten older, I've had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things. ~ Martin Scorsese

A day or so after my grandfather died in 2001, my dad and I were at home stumbling through the motions of making breakfast or something when he mentioned that upon stepping outside that morning, he'd found two homemade pies that his coworker Buddy had left on our front porch.  Immediately, and repeatedly over the next couple days, it wasn't Papa's death or Grandma's loss of her husband of almost sixty-two years or the knowledge of other family members' pain that made me cry, but instead those damned pies.  I cried over the pies even while agreeing with Dad how good it had been of his coworker to offer them.  The mental picture of those disposable foil pans left without fanfare on our porch made me cry awhile later as I dressed for the viewing.  A stretch of time would then pass in which I'd be calm, in that rubbed-raw weariness that grief brings on, and then the pies would return to mind and I would feel my face crumpling up again.  Soon enough, the full weight of Papa's death hit me, of course, but until the initial shock wore off, my tears were for the kindness that leads a person to buy the pans and the ingredients, to take the time out of one's own life to follow a recipe and to wait for pies to bake and then for them to cool, to wrap them up, and finally, to drive them across town--all to acknowledge and console another's hurting heart.  

Similarly, this past week, with our world news seemingly fuller than usual with stories of trauma and terror, it is a show of compassion, and not one of grief or gore, to which my mind keeps returning.  Soon after the Boston Marathon bombings last Monday, Boston.com created Google Documents to help locals who could offer housing reach those who had been displaced by the attacks.  In just a couple of days, almost 6,000 people posted to the spreadsheet offering everything from guest room beds and pull-out couches to hot showers, cupcakes, and snuggles with pets.  In honor of these Bostonians' kindness and goodwill, the list of housing offers has been kept online.  As with Papa's death and the front porch pies in 2001, it is this story this past week that has made me cry more than any other.  If you need to be reassured of human beings' capacity for compassion and goodness, this simple spreadsheet glows with both.  "I just made soup. . .and have a friendly cat," one offer reads.  Another:  "We have lots of coffee and floor space."  Yet another:  "Futon, showers, and two doggies ready to comfort you."  One more:  "We have lots of food, beer and cookies!  :)" (The smiley emoticon is the poster's, not mine, and even seeing THAT touches me.  People are amazing.)  "My wife might even spring for Chinese food tonight," reads another listing.  Some are from local college students who live in dorm rooms but are willing to give up their beds.  Some helpfully mention all foreign languages spoken in the households.  Many offer transportation.  At least one offers his YMCA guest-pass so someone can shower or sauna there and/or just get away for awhile.  Imagine:  Nearly 6,000 people reached out to help like this.  Constantly refreshing both Boston.com and the Boston Globe's Twitter feed last Monday, I read some of  these housing entries aloud to Mike as they began pouring in and exclaimed to him, "Honestly, can you even imagine!?  In a major city--And these people don't even KNOW who-all is reading this--And they're posting their phone numbers and email addresses and everything?!"  I was astounded by it.  It is one of the things I will remember most about the events of last week, all that kindness.  It is only now, eight days after the attacks, that I can even think about the housing offers list, let alone skim through it, without beginning to choke-up again.  ". . .Pullout couch.  Excellent brownies."  Well, honestly.  

I believe that good outweighs evil.  I believe that most people are good and are actively trying every day to be good.  I believe, like Mr. Rogers believed, that "you will always find people who are helping."   Here we all are, stumbling around the planet together, sometimes the ones falling and being helped up and dusted off, and other times the ones with hands outstretched to lift or carry.  We share our stories, we sing songs, and we try to make both sense and something good--there's that word again--come from it all.  We offer what we can, and if we pay attention, we see how the love we pass back and forth saves the day every day, one pie on a porch-front and sofa-bed-offer at a time. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Two Years

Mike took this photo of us in our hotel room on our wedding day two years ago.  It's one of my favorites from that whole day.  Our smiles!  We had just finished calling our parents to tell them the news, and the blushing giddiness we felt after those laughter-filled conversations is still on our faces in the picture.  "Oh, I figured you were up to something!" Mike's mom responded to his announcement.  "You never call in the middle of the day on a Friday like this!"  My own mom tried to speak normally but kept giggling and barely managed to call out to my dad in the background, "GENE!  Val's MARRIED!"  When she put my dad on, we caught up, and then he mentioned, in his usual Dad's Daily Diary-fashion, some dish he had recently cooked for his and Mom's supper that had bacon in it, and when I replied that it sounded like something Mike would love, Dad chortled, "That's right!  Mike!  I'll have to make it next time you're both here!  For my son-in-law!"  I love remembering these moments, all of us simultaneously shy and stunned-a-bit-stupid and and laughing during every pause in our conversations.
Tittering to each other and repeatedly rubbing our thumbs against the backs of our plain silver bands, Mike and I took one more picture and talked about where to go for supper.  We decided on a restaurant.  We commented that it would be Our First Meal as a Married Couple.  We laughed some more.  And hand in hand, we set off.