“Maybe you should build a little chicken wire cage with a 6 foot diameter perimeter and wear it when out it public. You could decorate it with caution tape.“Neighbor in NextDoor forum
This sarcastic response in a neighborhood thread that was initiated by a post expressing concern for the lack of social distancing (during the pandemic) at a local grocery store on a busy Sunday afternoon sparked lively discussion yesterday. Most along the lines of, “STAY HOME!” and others urging compassion for the low wage workers.
During my brief stint as private contractor in the gig economy, I delivered groceries for people (long before the pandemic). Near the end of my time, I decided to choose small orders in order to lower the anxiety of the opposing pressures of the ticking deadline and the out of stock items that required frantic correspondence with fussy subscribers.
One order came through that, among other things, included the following:
- 2 bulk cubes of ramen noodle packets
- 5 frozen pepperoni pizzas, each a different brand
- What turned out to be the largest bottle of vodka on the shelf
- 3 varieties of Doritos
- 1 plum tomato
Just so you know, I am a very judgmental person so now you can envision the slight smirk as I foraged the aisle for these items.
When I arrived at the address–well within the delivery window–the customer greeted me in the parking lot of his apartment complex. This was a relief since apartment complexes are tricky as they often have entry codes. The man offered to help carry the groceries in or to hold the door to the building. I chose the open door.
When I entered his apartment, the heavy scent confirmed suspicions I had as to the cause of the haphazard grocery selections.
Unexpected, yet solicited advice
Last December, searching for molasses, I asked an employee for assistance. As she guided me to the right aisle, she shared, “I’ve been really backed up lately. I’ve tried prunes but things are not getting better. Do you have any advice?”
Amused, and also oddly complimented that she felt comfortable sharing something so personal, I replied quickly before the wildly inappropriate nature of this question could really sink in, “My only thought is to stay active. Although your job seems to require a lot of walking, so that might help.”
She shook her head skeptically.
A reusable bag which induces a gag
Before the pandemic, about a month ago, I tossed my 3 reusable bags on the conveyor belt before placing my items behind them. As I greeted the cashier, a young black woman, she had just finished a friendly exchange with the previous customer–an older black man–who was pushing a cart packed with at least 20 plastic bags worth of groceries. When I encounter black people in conversation, I wonder if, as an Asian, they suddenly feel they need to be more formal.
This didn’t prepare me though, when she began to throw up into a trash can after securing one of the bags onto the packing station rounder.
“Are you okay?” I wondered if she were in the first trimester of a pregnancy which was a much more benign explanation than the fear that she had a sudden onslaught of a violent and virulently contagious stomach flu. “Maybe you should go home and rest.”
“Okay. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I don’t want you to think it’s you. I don’t want you to worry about me. But, earlier today, a lady–an older lady–I felt very bad for her, came in. She had had surgery a few months ago and she hasn’t been out of her house this whole time. She brought a pile of grocery bags in–just like yours–that had been sitting in her house for months. She was so excited to be shopping again.
“Anyway, when I opened the bag, there was dog poop in it. She felt bad and said that her dog had been sitting on those bags. I didn’t want her to feel bad. So I held in my throw up until now. Your bag reminded me of that. I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry.”
“Wow! Yikes! That makes sense. I’m so sorry. Did you throw the bag away?”
“Yes, I threw the bag away. I just can’t believe she didn’t know.”
I began to feel horrible about the little shards of onion skin that I had left in my reusable bag.
The next time I came into the store, I decided to buy new bags. When I came to her aisle, I realized they weren’t hanging at the checkout as usual. I asked if I could go look for them since no one was behind me. She sprang into action, calling the manager to inquire where the bags were and dashed off to find them for me.
Since these interactions, I attempt to always clean out my reusable bags. Any time I pass her aisle, I offer a friendly smile. During this crisis, my appreciation and admiration for the grace in which she and her colleagues interact with customers, has increased exponentially.
Let’s plot ways of thanking them!