Is it a good thing to ask? Giving part 2

When you are raising money for a good cause like the Our Voice sex abuse counseling center, one could make a case that you should ask everybody who comes through your grocery store check-out line.  But this is not feasible or even desirable: asking takes energy, being turned down can take it out of you, and some people are better off not being asked.

You can similarly make a case for not profiling who you should ask.  I certainly have gotten yes answers from groups my profiling would target as bad risks: too young, too old, too southern, too poor, too minority.  But I do still have a profile of who is most likely to give, for this charity especially: a woman between 25-50 with a big order and our frequent shopper account.  And I do find myself, when I am burned out from being turned down, trying to intuit who is going to say no, so as to maximize my yes’s.  Call it profiling or call it psychic or simply picking up on their energies, I’ll defend my right – even my responsibility to my own self-care – to leave some people out.  There are some other times that I think it makes sense to not ask:

  • when they seem worried or angry or hurried
  • if they are paying with food stamps (you don’t always know this until right at the end of the transaction)
  • when they are buying for work or for somebody else
  • if they make any reference to a recent financial reversal – big dental or vet bill, home remodeling that’s going over budget
  • they have had to wait a long time in line, you have created a complicated transaction right before them or you have otherwise pissed them off
  • they have already pulled out even change -or their change is going to be less than a dollar, the least we are equipped to take
  • they have gotten in a groove of saying no – or seem to be enjoying it too much. “No I don’t have your frequent shopper card.” “No I don’t want a bag.”  “No I don’t have a highlight to report” (my favorite conversation starter)
  • if you have made a big pitch for the frequent shopper program and they have said no
  • if they are with their mother or grandmother who is paying
  • if you get any kind of a bad vibe from them

In my first “Giving” post, I made the case for asking – even while I said that sometimes they would be doing right by saying no.  Here I’m making the case for not asking, mostly to take care of our own energy.  Sometimes we just need a breather.  The other day, in a burned out moment, I bargained with myself that I would ask the next three people and if none of them gave I would take some time off.  None of them did give, but I had so much fun with the  fourth person that I couldn’t resist asking – and she gave $5.  That kept me going for a while.

Sometimes we get burned out because we have lost our center and started to care too much whether they give.  The whole enterprise is a great opportunity to listen to ourself, to tune into our subtle sense of things, and to let go.  It can potentially enrich our experience of the work.

 

The Whale (Majo,2005)

I ride the back of a massive whale
Called luck
Or chance
Or the convergence of the spheres
Or “Just coincidence, you dreamer, you”.

When my son was 12,
I told him that God winked at us
When things converged
He thought me more goofy then
Than even I was wont to be.
Today he says it back to me.

I worked as a gasoline station cashier
I played with numbers all day long
They winked at me many times a day.
My boss and I talked of what life was like
In the 70’s in the good old USA
As we talk, this woman writes her check
For her gas and cigarettes combined
It comes to 19 dollars and 70 cents –
Why?

This girl says her birthday is today
She’s 29 years old
Her several purchases add up
To twenty-nine dollars on the head.
What kind of dance is this
This rhythm of the spheres?

At my fav place to fill my tank
My charge for gas is thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents
The cashier there knows my numbers thing
And is less enrapt with the synchronicities of life
“Boring number this time, hon.”
Next stop the food co-op
My total there thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents.

This whale
Which dwells so far below
The waves which toss our human lives
Has breeched
It takes my breath away
While my mind sees but an empty sea

This is the first or second grade
Of the “everything thing in synch” elementary school
But fun and helps me pass the time
And, in their so-light ways
These connections
Dare me to still believe
This world is chaos, just
The senseless random bounce
Of the billiard balls of life.

Why is this old song
On the radio at this just perfect time?
Or, coming ‘round that bend
Why is this perfect person there?
Is everything connected?
Do my five senses know
How to perceive beyond
The seeming separateness of things?

This sixth sense – sleeping most the time
Sees the web, the one tapestry of life
Can see what’s next
Because it’s all there at once
All the time.

Could it be
No matter what I think of you
Or my gripes that you
Are even here at all
That you were always meant to be right here
Right this moment, now?

If I dive deep
Engage with you more full
It might get clear
The wink you have for me
And I for you

If some events synch up like this
How can I make this happen more
Here in Asheville, where these things go on
Faster and much more than in the normal world?

What if the secret is
That it’s not for me to do it all
That I may not do anything?
This freeze-frame
Where all seems one
May really mean that all is one
There are no actors
Or those they act upon.

There is just life
Dancing its dance
Dancing us
Even when we just sit and watch.

Just that time of year

This is last year’s 10-minute Christmas poem edited down to three minutes.  I have a real fondness for that long, rambling Christmas letter of a poem – but I like this better.  It makes a lot of reference to my day job as a cashier at Earth Fare grocery store.  Enjoy.  Happy holidays.

Just that time of year…abridged  (Majo, 12/17/15)

It’s that time of year again
Jingle bells and all
But is there really all
That much to celebrate?
The cold and dark have returned again
Do pretty much the same time every year
I try to be cheerful about them
But this little whoosy man
Gets depressed with the onset of the shorter days
And pisses and moans pretty much the same
The whole winter through

The events in the world
Wars, gang shootings
Racial profiling and horrific injustices
Seem no better than ever
I want so badly to believe
That the human race and societies
Are somehow evolving
Somehow getting better, smarter
More fair, more loving
But can see no signs
That this is true

Everybody, it seems
Has their struggles and their sorrows
Caroling with the Jubilee group,
I realized that we were singing
Not just for the shut-ins we were visiting all evening
But also for ourselves
We – all of us
Need to buck up our spirits
At this dark time
We – all of us
Need all of us
To come together
To love each other
We – all of us
Need this poem
We – all of us
Need to create
Whenever we can
However we can
We – all of us
Need to hope for the future
For our writing and painting
And music-making
And our gardening and cooking
And parenting and love-making

We need to come together
As we are reading this poem
We are coming together
As all of us staff at my grocery store
Are serving all of our customers
We are coming together
As all of our customers
Rub shoulders in our store
Stand next to each other
In our checkout lines
Greet and often hug their friends
You are coming together
As all of us front-line customer servers
In all of the various stores
Serve all of our customers
Who, at other times
Are all of us
Who, when we are not working
Also patronize these other stores
We are all
Every one of us who deals
With customer servers
Coming togetherwinter-dark-2

We are serving our customers
Trying to put a smile on their face
Trying to put a smile on our face
Trying to get our customer’s needs met
Trying to check them out
Quickly and accurately
Bagging their groceries tenderly
Ripe avocados on top
Trying to exchange some pleasantries
And, when we are lucky
Even some meaningful exchange
Some “What’s been a highlight of your day?”
Trying to be real for each other
And to be kind
Trying, trying, trying
All of us humans trying
To make things work
To make this a better year
And when we are lucky
To love, even

“Buy the card.”

Suzanne was tenacious.  She wanted me to buy the Barnes and Noble membership card.  When I came through her check-out line with my first set of purchases, she said, “You could have saved $8 – you’d be a third of a the way through to having your card paid for.” I hemmed and hawed and then said no.  “I come here once a year, for Christmas gifts – you have a great selection of gift books.”  They don’t have that big footprint for nothing.

bookstore-pic

Books – I love ’em.  It’s something that Suzanne and I have in common. And I don’t often indulge in my love for books.  It could actually be good for me to spend more time in book stores.

So I went away not buying the card.  Then I realized several more purchases I wanted to make – and came back to Suzanne with another $75 worth of books.  She said, “You know, if you had bought that card… and by the way, it’s not too late.  We could go back and re-ring that whole first sale.”  She was really willing to go out of her way to do this.

I was on the edge this time – and finally said, “No. I’m a Malaprops shopper.  I don’t buy from big chains. I support our local independent bookseller.  They have my loyalty – I don’t want to do something that will build loyalty elsewhere.”  Suzanne said, “Well, in some ways you are buying from independent booksellers.  I’ve been here 15 years.  I love to read and I’m a writer.  This is a job where I get to be around books.  Tony over here has worked for Barnes and Noble for 18 years.  You’re not buying from some high school kid – you’re dealing with book professionals.”

As Suzanne was bagging my books, she continued her sales pitch: “Each month you will get a coupon for 20% off certain kinds of books.  When you buy online you always get free expedited shopping.”  Now that made me perk up.

But I have loyalty to Amazon, too.  I think Amazon is great – it revolutionized the book industry.  What I couldn’t escape though, was that Suzanne was building a relationship with me.  She was my bookseller.  So I said yes.  Suzanne was pleased, though she kept her dignity.  She didn’t do a happy dance or anything gouche like that.

But she had gone the extra mile.  I know, from being a cashier, what it’s like to really invest in selling your company – to really invest in getting the best for your customer.  You have to put it on the line.  It takes energy.  Suzanne did it.  I don’t know how many customers a day she did that for, but she did it for me.

She had said that she’s a writer.  I pulled out my business card and told her, “I’m a writer too.  I write a blog about cashiering and you are a superb cashier.  I’d like to write a post about you.” She was tickled, a little shy but happy about this prospect.  I think she was happy just that there was such a blog, then doubly happy at the prospect of being featured in it.

I said, “Maybe tonight I’ll write this up.” I didn’t say “I’ve got about three other posts queued up in front of it – it might not be tonight.”

I took my new purchases over to the gift-wrapping station and while I was there I realized two missing pieces for this blog post – her first name and, preferably, a photo.  I went back around to the check out area.  This time there was a line.  She spotted me in the line and giggled right away.

When I went up to her I said, “I have two requests: I’d like to use your first name and I’d like a picture of you.”  She said, “I look terrible today.”  “I don’t think you look terrible – I think you look fine.  And it will make the blog post just pop.  And if you do that for me I promise that I will write a blog post about you tonight.”

BandN

Suzanne.  She’s alive, vibrant, warm, friendly – a real human being in a big corporation.  She’s beautiful.

Now it’s a promise.  There’s a good likelihood that by the time I get through some other to do’s tonight it will be late and I won’t feel like doing this – may actually have a hard time marshaling the level of focus needed to write this.  (But I actually have pretty directly transcribed all this from a digital recording I made right after leaving Barnes and Noble.)  I do well with accountability…not to say that every time I have promised to write a blog post I actually have done it.

Suzanne had won me over.  I wasn’t buying from Barnes and Noble – I was buying from Suzanne.  Now she was not really going to be my personal bookseller.  I wouldn’t be able to call her up.  But in this moment, in a merchandising market that can be so impersonal, she met me as a person.  She seemed to genuinely care about me. Even if she was primarily driven by a desire (or pressure) to drive her upsell numbers up, for me in that moment it was all personal.

I had a spiffy new Barnes and Noble membership card and a promise that lots of B&N promotions would be hitting my email inbox (“Just once a week”, Suzanne said).  I do not know if this card will actually end up saving me money – or in any way change my book buying habits.  I don’t know if it will draw me into the store, where I will immerse myself in the world of books.  I don’t know in which situations I will choose for Malaprop’s – certainly some.  And when I will choose for Amazon – probably sometimes I will comparison shop, though that may get to be a pain in the neck.

I left Barnes and Noble happy.  I had had a real exchange with a real person – doing her best, with a lot of dignity, to do a good job.  I felt like she liked me – and I definitely liked her.  She made me proud to be a cashier.

 

The deal goes down…

One of the posts I have been planning and writing notes towards is about how I Iike to compliment people on their clothing.  It’s maybe not the most personal kind of affirmation, but when you don’t have any deeper connection happening it’s better than not affirming them at all.  And you can’t tell in advance what meaningful connections they have with that item of clothing.  Complimenting it may be taken as an affirmation of their taste, or there may be all kinds of personal associations to this sweater, etc.

I was complimenting Joe on his shirt.  (I didn’t get his actual name – Joe, if you’re reading this, let me know your name.  Better still, leave a comment here on the blog so any readers can get more of a glimpse of you.)  It was some kind of faux-suede, a great warm earth tone, and hung on him like it was really comfortable.  From his response. it was clear that he liked it as much as I did.  I didn’t unearth where/how he got it (more that would be fun to hear from you, Joe), but I had the impression he had had it for a long time.

It was a total bluff on my part – part of a shtick I do sometimes – that I said, “I’ll give you 15 bucks for it.”  i was completely surprised when he immediately seemed to be weighing my offer.  His wife saw him doing this and jumped in herself: “Oh, not 15 – ten”, which made it all seem even more like a real possibility.  Moments later, Joe was peeling off the shirt, I was pulling out $10, and we had made a deal.

Joe gives me the shirt, I give him ten bucks - a steal for such a cool shirt. The woman waiting patiently next in line while Joe and I made our transaction was not just being a good sport.  The whole exchange turned her on as much as it did us.

Joe gives me the shirt, I give him ten bucks – a steal for such a cool shirt. The woman waiting patiently next in line while Joe and I made our transaction was not just being a good sport. The whole exchange turned her on as much as it did us.

All three of us – and the woman waiting patiently next in line – were completely turned on by the spontaneity of this connection.

There was another layer here that I may have been intuiting, but not consciously, which came out some minutes later when I was telling another customer about this exchange. (I ask her for a highlight of her day, she returns the favor by asking me the  same question – and out spills this story).  She said, “They really liked you!”  It’s pretty interesting that it took her prodding to get me to realize this.  And with this realization, another recognition popped out.

I had been thinking just earlier today how boring most of my clothes are.  Now I've got a really cool new shirt.

I had been thinking just earlier today how boring most of my clothes are. Now I’ve got a really cool new shirt.

Joe didn’t want to get rid of his shirt – he really liked it. He just wanted me to have it!  Underneath a fun, playful exchange there was really a kind of love.  Now I’m especially going to wear this shirt in good health.

Manic work

Cashiering is manic work.  You’re waiting on one customer after another.  You want to really show up for each of them.  You want to be alive, engaging, maybe even funny.  When I am manic, I am magic behind the cash register.  When I am down, I’m often really pretty lousy.

Until recently, my cashiering work has had no power to shift my down mood – if I arrived for my shift depressed I was depressed the whole eight hours.  But something has changed recently.  Several times in the last two weeks, I have gone to work a little depressed and over the course of my shift have moved into a little bit of mania – not a lot of mania, just enough to be functional in my work, enough actually to make me really good.

When I'm up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be - fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

When I’m up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be – fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

I can tell that it’s not true biochemical mania because on days when I am not working I immediately drop back into a light depression.  A light depression! A little bit of mania! You have no idea how encouraging this is to me!

The obvious next question is why – what’s different? I have a theory. I’m actually pretty convinced that I know what’s going on.  Let me put it in another post.

 

Put me in your blog!

Jessica, in the cafe next to my store, takes real good care of me (as do Beth and Richard the manager).  She’s friendly, attentive, efficient – and she has learned and remembers my name.  This morning she convincingly said that she misses me when I don’t come in.  I don’t totally believe it, but I believe that she’s happy to see me.  

When I told her about this blog, she got all animated (as cashiers typically do – “Wow, something about us!”).  She took that animation one step further and said “Put me in your blog”.  I said “Maybe.”  Really I was thinking “Well, you haven’t done anything memorable.”  Just typical world-class customer service.

Even I sometmes take really great service for granted.  That's not good.

Even I sometmes take really great service for granted. That’s not good.

Cashiering at its best is very personal work.  You really take an interest in the customer – you want them to have a good experience.  You’re putting a little bit of your heart on the line by not doing it by rote.  Jessica absolutely deserves a post – as does Beth, as does Richard, as does everybody who shows up to this work and takes a genuine personal interest in their customers.

All you do is make me like your store.  All you do is make my day a little better.  I, as much as anybody, ought to know that.