Sunday, May 17, 2020

The man in the store

I shop at my local grocery, Robert's, in New Orleans, between 6am and 7am.  This time is sequestered for people over sixty.  I am well over sixty, in fact coming upon seventy-five in a few months.  (Holy Mother of God.)  Nevertheless, it's one small perq of being old, and I accept it gratefully.

This particular day, Saturday, I arrive at Robert's at 6:30am.  It always feels slightly ridiculous to shop for groceries this early in the morning.  I pick things dully, and I always forget to get something I needed to get.  

The aisles are full of stacked boxes of produce.  Employees are madly rushing to unpack them.  This is not a normal work pace.  It's impressive to see how quickly and adroitly they work.  There are no excessive gestures.  I don't know how long they've been working, but I suspect even before the store opens at 6am.

I push my cart down all the aisles, picking out things, not really knowing if I want or need them.

Ah, yes, I remember.  I want sesame oil.  I'm going to stir fry something later, and I want that sesame touch to make it authentic.  But I can't find it.  It's not there in the exotic foods section.

I head for the cashier.  A man emerges from an office door and points me to a register.

"I'll take you here," he says. I begin unloading stuff from the cart.  We're both wearing masks.

"Do you have sesame oil?" I ask.

"Yes," he replies, "we do.  It's in aisle one, with the olive oils."

"Can I go and get it now?"

"Sure.  I'll check you out in the meantime."

He's energetic, polite, helpful.  He makes me feel I matter.  I turn and head for aisle one.

Once there, I search.  Can't find it.  Hmm.  Oh, yes, there it is.  Expensive though.  Do I want to spend that much?  I ponder.  Better make up my damn mind.  The man is waiting.  I grab the bottle and head back to the register.  He has come from behind the register and is just about to walk to find me.  He's already loaded my stuff into my cart for me.

"You found it?" he asks.

"Yes, thanks."  He has a name tag that says "Store Manager."  He's probably here every day.  I see a wedding ring.  He probably has a family.  I wonder how he feels, his wife feels, about his being here every day, possibly risking getting sick, even worse. Would I be able to do that?  Probably not.   

I pay.  

"Have a good day," he says to me as I wheel the cart to the door. 

I don't think I've ever believed anyone who has told me thatuntil this morning, in this grocery store, from the lips of this most gracious, sunny man.


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