Meditations in the grocery store
“Random acts of kindness” is a philosophy that suits me. I may be inconsistent, but I can always be random.
If I see a paper towel thrown on the floor of a public bathroom, I pick it up. Sometimes. I can rescue lost dogs and cats. Usually.
I try to remember to compliment store clerks on the color and style of their hair. The more outlandish it is, obviously the more thought they have put into this personal expression.
They’re working at low-paying, boring jobs with complaining customers. The least I can do is acknowledge their presence by praising their two-tone green hair.
When I was that age, to display our nonconformist, creative personalities, we wore black like Beatniks and smoked French cigarettes. Nowadays, young people wear strange hairstyles, startling hair colors and tattoos.
Tattoos are so alien to me, I am uncertain how to react to them. Do we stare or peep? Do we ask for their meaning or ignore them? Do we acknowledge them and say, “Nice ink?” Or do we act blasé and indifferent?
Why would someone want an image of Mickey Mouse tattooed on her foot, or a poem tattooed around his neck or any other design displayed on public skin?
This is where the Internet is useful. I looked up “tattoo etiquette” and came upon a piece by a young woman who said, among other things, “Don’t assume the person with a tattoo is unemployed.”
Okay. What should we assume? I am no more enlightened than I was before my Internet search.
On a recent Saturday afternoon in the neighborhood grocery store, an elderly lady wearing strong perfume kept crossing my path. More accurately, blocking my path. She was like a squirrel in the road, except a squirrel with a grocery cart and so much perfume it made my eyes tear. Luckily, I was just up from a nap and feeling mellow, so I just smiled at her — aisle after aisle — and went on with my shopping.
At the checkout line, the new policy is to ask anyone buying beer for an I.D. The man across from me, in his 50s, threw a 2-year-old fit. I was buying beer, too. I laughed and told him I was so flattered I was going to show my I.D. again, voluntarily, before I left.
“I’m not flattered,” he snapped at me. “It’s harassment and I’m sick of it.”
The checkout clerk whispered to me, “Last week he cussed me out.”
Luckily for the rude and angry man, my Avenger cloak was in the laundry, so I ignored his tirade. Instead, I turned to the young woman in line behind me. She was piling fabulous food on the conveyor belt.
“I want to go eat what you’re making,” I told her.
“It’s a special dinner,” she said. “My best friend’s boyfriend died last week. On her 30th birthday. So, I said we need a special dinner.”
The woman was so young, I asked, “How old was he?”
“Thirty,” she said. “He had an 8-year-old daughter. The really bad thing is, her mother died in January.”
When I’m trying to remember to do my random acts of kindness, I think of Emily Dickinson’s line, “The Soul has Bandaged moments.”
We are all bandaged souls.
In the grocery store, the old woman had dressed and perfumed herself for an outing. Perhaps her only outing of the day. I could be patient with her.
The angry man was a boiling teapot needing a spout to let off steam. I could ignore him.
Some people need to declare themselves with brightly colored hair or elaborate nails or tattoos. I can notice them.
Some people make special suppers for a grieving friend. I can admire that.
As I was leaving, the grocery clerk whispered to me again, “Thank you for being nice.”
She caught me on a good day.