“Here, take this – I want you to have it.”

Michael is a new cashier, a young guy – full of energy and dreams and promise for his future.  I think he’s in pre-med and plans to be a doctor. We were talking in the cafe  – me on my last ten-minute break, he (having started later than me) on his lunch.

Michael

Michael

“I was reading your blog the other night – I read it until 3 a.m., three hours worth.  So much of it spoke to me.”  This post is mostly going to be about concrete things people have given me at work.  I’m going to violate some time-honored writing principles by starting with the biggest one – this personal, non-concrete gift from Michael.  Michael was letting me know that my writing had given him gifts, but in the process he gave me one of the biggest gifts I could receive – he helped me to believe in myself.  He told me that my writing has value, can help people.

This post I’m writing here has been sitting dormant for two weeks.  Two weeks ago I wrote the barest outline – a list of several things people have given me at work, and maybe a few words about each.  (I can’t even find that outline now.)  But nothing has happened with it since  – I’ve written not one more word.  I believed in this post – I thought it could be really strong.  One night I sat down to try to write it, but it was 8:30 p.m. already and I soon succumbed to sleepiness.

But I came away from my really very brief conversation with Michael today charged up. “I’m meant to be writing! And that post is next!”  So here I am, having walked the dog after work (during which time I was writing this in my head), and now I’m at my computer writing.  No emails, no reading the Washington Post online – I’m writing.  Thank you Michael.  And I shall steer you Michael towards this post after it’s posted – and I think you may get some good stuff from it.

I’m going to start my list of gifts given to me at work with the oldest one and then work towards the present.  Some of these names (not Michael) have been changed to protect people’s privacy – or just made up because I didn’t know the person’s name.

( 4 years ago)PBR
Walter was clearly intoxicated.   But that didn’t invalidate his good-hearted generosity when he shoved at me one of the beers he was buying from me and said, “Have it – pop it open.  Let’s both have one.  You’re a good guy – I want you to have it.”  I obviously couldn’t drink a beer during my shift at the cash register, so Walter’s kindly insistence was really kind of comical, but it was also really kind of sweet – he wanted to share with me.

(2 years ago)hat and gloves
I was immediately drawn to Sharon’s beautiful red homemade knit hat.  When I expressed my appreciation of it, she said, “Thank you, I made it.”  “Wow, do you sell them somewhere?”  “No, I mostly just give them away to my friends.”  “Well I want to buy one from you.”  She took a breath as if considering for just a moment, then took the hat off her head and handed it to me – along with matching fingerless gloves (perfect for cashiering in a cold grocery store) she had in her purse.  “Here, I want you to have them.”  I protested, but she was very clear that she wanted me to have them, as a gift – and, truth be told, I also really wanted to have them.  I have taken a lot of pleasure in wearing them.

(6 months ago)

Andy beer

Andy’s favorite beer.  

Andy and Debbie have become friends of mine.  We had lunch together once.  They are not party people and don’t come to my  birthday parties – but we love our brief time together every Monday.  And I know that they care about me – when they ask how I am doing, they mean it.  They read my blog and know that my ups and downs are more ferocious than most people’s.  Andy has a favorite beer that he stocks up on periodically.  I’m on a quest to find out what beers I most like and was asking him about his.  He pulled one out of his grocery bag and gave it to me.  It was an effortless gesture – what you would do with a friend.  And it was also effortless to let Andy know later that I like his beer a lot.

(4 months ago)
Peter and Jessi are regular customers of mine.  They are young, energetic (rock climbers) and fun – and they did come to my birthday party last year, along with Peter’s kids Jack and Ruby.  Peter is a big, strapping young guy.  As soon as  Peter came through the door  one morning, he came straight over to me and said, “You told us you are going to move – do you need help?”  “Well, uh – sure.”  He flexed his enormous bicep: “I’ve got this…and a truck.”  I’ve probably told that story 20 times and I still laugh with delight – it was so perfect.

IMG_20171029_143458571_HDR.jpg

Peter, Jessi and their new friend, my Toni.

(2 months ago)
That new house, with two friends taking me in, was always meant to be short-term.  Six weeks later I was moving to my friend John’s house – also agreed to be short-to-medium term, maybe several months.  When Peter and Jessi arrived to once more help me move, I told them so apologetically, “John just called me.  He got a text from his landlord that he is selling the house – we have 30 days to get out.”  Peter paused a few moments before saying, “We’re going to have to just keep doing this until we get you settled somewhere.”  When two days later I saw Jessi at the store, she said, “That’s just who he is – generous.  He’s like that every day.”

(3 weeks ago)|
I didn’t remember ever seeing Mary before, but I was very personally drawn to her.  I didn’t even know just what I liked so much about her, but I liked her a lot.  When I went through my regular routine of asking myself what  I would like to validate about her,  I couldn’t even immediately come up with anything.  She was pretty, but that didn’t feel on target for a validation.  I just kind of irrationally liked her.  We had a sweet mini-encounter.  Nothing especially meaningful got said, but I felt good about it.  And then she was gone.Trilogy

And then three minutes later she was back.  She stood behind the customer I was waiting on, held up a bottle of Synergy brand kombucha, Trilogy flavor – my favorite flavor.  “I asked around what you might like and they said this.”  I was dumbfounded.  She gave me a huge smile and glided towards the door, looking at me and smiling all the time.  I raised my hands in a shrug and mouthed, “Why?”  I thought she enjoyed my confusion.

I think that part of what made that encounter, that act of generosity, so special to me was the very fact that I didn’t understand it.  I didn’t think I had done anything to deserve it.  When, during my ten-minute break, I told a coworker about this scenario I added – in my attempt to  make sense of this – that the whole time I waited on Mary I was also thinking about my new roommate Lucy.  I was thinking about what validation I wanted to give Lucy next.  The one I had on the tip of my tongue was seeming too superficial and I was reaching for something more meaningful.  My coworker said, “That’s it – the whole time you were waiting on Mary you were standing in a field of love, and she felt it.  She became part of it.”  That felt and continues to feel really right.

(2 weeks ago)
chocolate ba.jpg
I didn’t remember Linda and nothing special happened between us – but I enjoyed the encounter with her.  The last item that I swiped and that she picked up off the counter and dropped in her grocery bag was a chocolate bar.  “Do you like chocolate?” she asked.  “Sure.”  “Chocolate with orange pieces in it?”  “Yeah”?  (Where is this going?)  She pulled that last chocolate bar back out and handed it to me.  “Here, I want you to have this.”  “Why?” (I was genuinely confused.)  “Because you’re awesome.”  (But why am I awesome?  I didn’t do anything.)  I indicated to Linda how genuinely happy this made me.  I didn’t comment on my confusion.  I think she got that, and maybe even took a little satisfaction from it.  (What does it mean to be awesome and why would she want to give me her chocolate bar?)

(4 days ago)
rose
When I got back from my lunch break, there was a beautiful rose (probably from our floral department, just steps away from the cashier area) in front of my cash register.  This time, along with a little bit of “Why?”, I more just accepted it – and felt really, really good.  Somehow having no idea who or why made it more possible for me to just let go of the questions.

(3 days ago)
Jose hat
I was sitting in the café, fussing over a predicament.  The next day I was going to a benefit “Sock hop” with a 50’s theme.  The family I was going with (Peter and his family) had all put together 50’s style clothes – and I had nothing, nothing that felt in any way 50’s.  As I was sitting there I looked across the café and saw my friend Jose from the meat department wearing a blue seersucker bomber cap – that looked to me like 50’s!  I’ve gotta have that hat!  So, in a move that felt to me bold and intrusive and maybe even inappropriate, I went to Jose, explained my predicament and said, “I’ve gotta borrow your hat!”  Jose immediately took it off his head and seemed positively enthused to loan it to me.

At the cash register that afternoon, at the party and at the cash register again on Monday (Jose wasn’t due in until 2 p.m.), I got so many compliments about the hat that I started saying, “Either this hat is really great or you just don’t expect me to wear anything cool.”  One of my customers said, “That hat is so you – you need to not give it back.”  I was almost ashamed to admit to myself that I really kind of did not want to give it back.

Jose cafe

Jose told me today that he would be glad to let me take his picture – if he could wear his motorcycle helmet.

When, on my afternoon break, I went back to the meat department to give Jose his hat, he wouldn’t take it.  “No, it’s your hat now.  It’s really you – it’s yours.”  I was both completely knocked out by this generosity – and also somehow not surprised.  It just fit with how I know Jose.

(Today)cookies - 11-15-117
Today when I came back from my break, there was a chocolate chip cookie in a bag at my station.  How did it get there?  Was it a “put back” – somebody decided they didn’t want it and gave it to the cashier working next to me, who then accidentally pushed into my area?  This seemed far-fetched.  I asked Megan, my podmate.  She knew nothing about it.  “Maybe you have a secret admirer.” “I think I have a lot of them.”

In one of J.D. Salinger’s books there is a character who describes himself as a “reverse paranoid – I think that the world is conspiring to make me happy.”  I think this is happening to me.

Advertisements

My brief, abortive foray into iphone land.

This article has nothing to do with grocery stores. I never promised to write only about grocery stores.  It is about technology, consuming, learning new things, courage.  Read it if you like – it’s kind of interesting.
I was one of the first adopters of androids. Something like seven years ago, I bought (actually my friends Tom and Vicki bought for me …amazing friends) the first android – the Motorola Droid, which a Time cover story dubbed “the iphone killer”. Thus began one of the most neurotic dances of a fairly neurotic consumer.
Even while something in me told me that the Android system – or “Google phone” – was a good way to go, I always remained snowed by the Apple mystique. “Iphones are more intuitive.” “Artists use Apples.” No matter how relatively satisfied I was with that phone and a couple of successive androids – and it always was a relative thing – something in me always believed that I would be happier with an iphone, that I should jump out of my security in my androids and make the change.
Then there was my daughter-in-law, who said, “If you’re comfortable with your android, stay there – iphone is going to be a whole new system, too hard to learn. It’s not worth it.” Her words had a ring of truth – they certainly spoke to my insecurities.  But what about courage?  Going boldly into uncharted territory?  Art?  All these also had a pull on me.
Android-vs-iPhone-Android-Better-2016-3-720x526

I tried the almost-newest iphone 8 (there’s the brand new and very expensive iphone 10) and now a cutting-edge android, the Motorola Moto Z2 Force.

So a week ago I made the jump.  My Verizon two-year contract was up, so I could get a good deal on a new phone.  And – maybe more important – could leave Verizon, which I have come to regard as an evil corporation.  And my friend Bob Lantis convinced me that T-Mobile had better rates – and just as strong a signal as Verizon.  (One of the factors keeping me with Verizon was the local maxim that “In these mountains, Verizon is the only game in town for signal strength.”)

It maybe should have given me a signal that Jason (the champ) and Melissa (also nice) at the T-Mobile store were both android users and at several points shrugged their shoulders and admitted that they just didn’t know some stuff about iphones.  And Melissa, who came in halfway through the sale, at one point asked Jason, “Why are you putting him in an iphone?”  “Because that’s what he wants.”

So now, after eight days of iphone use, here are my take-aways:
– I don’t know if the iphone is better or more intuitive, because I stuck with my Google apps (contacts, calendar, gmail, chrome browser),
– the iphone ways of handling these familiar apps continually frustrated me – “Where’s this?”  “How do you do this?”
– I want my android back.  In fact, I have now gotten it back.  Today I went to T-Mobile and got the spiffiest new Motorola android.  I already like it a lot.  Jason took great care of me – not only very customer-oriented, but very technically savvy.  And he knows and likes Androids.  The phone he sold me is the one he uses.
– T-Mobile and Verizon both charge you a $50 “re-stocking fee” for returning a phone, because they can no longer sell it as new.  My new phone cost $20 more downpayment than the iphone did, but costs $10 less per month – that’s $120 a year.  (I know you knew that, but I felt a defensive need to emphasize it.)  Bob put me on his plan, so my monthly rate is half what it would otherwise be – and way less than I was paying at Verizon.

I honestly think that I will never again wish I had an iphone or think that I’m missing out on something. It was worth the $50 to get unhypnotized.

“What makes you so interesting?”

The woman customer in front of me was maybe ten years younger than my 71, very attractive – and, for reasons I cannot really recapture, was immediately amazingly interesting.  I asked her, “Are you really tremendously alive?”  She got a little momentarily unglued – maybe a bit embarrassed by the strength of the compliment – but then quickly found her moorings and said, “Yes, I would say that I am tremendously alive.”

I found this so totally attractive that it took my breath away.  “She knows she is tremendously alive and is not afraid to claim it!  Amazing!”

Then I went to my most reliable provocative question for customers, “What’s been a highlight of your day?” – and for some reason I don’t remember her answer.  But then she asked me the question back – I knew she would – and I do remember my answer.  “My highlight has been this exchange with you – I just feel totally energized by it.”  I wanted to put everything I could behind this flirting.  I really wanted to be bold and ask for her phone number, but that felt like too much and maybe actually was too much.  I could have given her my card,  but couldn’t get myself to do it.  I just relied on lots of smiles and eye contact and a hope that sometime she would find her way back into my grocery line.  I really did trust that this encounter had power for her too.

And then she was gone.  I spent the next couple of customers trying to integrate what had just gone on.  Those customers probably didn’t get the best service from me, but sometimes it’s just like that.  The third customer, a couple about my age, I asked my “highlight” question.  They gave uninteresting answers and then failed to ask me the question back, so I basically asked it to myself:: “Would you mind if I vent a little about a customer before you?”  I sensed their mild alarm and reassured them, “It’s not a bad vent – it’s a good vent, just something I need to chew on.”  They ok’d the plan, but not enthusiastically.  So I told them about what an impression this woman had made on me, and how I was still rattled from it.  They thanked me for sharing and went back to talking with each other about their plans for the afternoon.  

But the good had been done – I had more integrated my experience with the “Alive” woman.  I want to call her Susie, even though that’s a pretty vanilla name. Maybe it’s really her name. While I was talking with this couple, I kept noticing that the woman right after them – a very attractive 40 year old – was nodding and smiling, seeming very connected with the whole story.  When the couple left and she moved directly in front of me, even though she had just a few items and there was a line behind her – restless because I had had a long conversation with the previous customers – I was struck by her big-time emotional availability and wanted to engage her, even if briefly.

“I was telling that couple about a customer before them who was tremendously interesting.  You are obviously very interesting.  What would you say is really interesting about you?” Now that’s asking a lot of someone in the supermarket checkout, given 90 seconds to respond.  But she fussed in embarrassment for just moments before she really leaned into her answer.  She lit up: “I’m learning how to smile with my eyes – it goes all the way back into my head.”  When she finished, she looked totally pleased with herself.  I gave her a big, “Wow, that’s awesome” and she was gone.  I hope she comes back through my line again, too.  

I took the next couple of customers to integrate that exchange – not even offering my “highlights” question, much less the blatantly intrusive “What’s especially interesting about you?”

The third woman had just a few items and I was inclined to let go of any attempt to engage.  But right at the end of her transaction, for some reason I couldn’t restrain myself.  “Don’t be a wimp.  This question has surfaced some amazing stuff.  Go for it.”  I asked her, “What’s especially interesting about you?”

“What’s interesting about me is that I’m really hungry and really in a hurry.”  And you know, it was just fine.  I thanked her for being so honest and focused all my attention on finishing her transaction.  

Trying to engage in these deeper exchanges in the checkout line is a crapshoot: sometimes it works and sometimes not.  Sometimes my intuition about where to offer deeper engagement seems right on the money, sometimes not.  But the game is totally worth it – otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

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.

 

Is it a good thing for them to give?

Not always.

We’re asking for money at the cash registers again – for a very good cause, one I can really get behind (Our Voice, a community agency that fights against sexual and domestic abuse).  There are all kinds of good reasons why it might be good for our customers to say “No”.  They may need to pull their energy in today.  Even thinking about this agency may trigger some of their own traumatic experiences.  The bottom line is that in that moment “No” may have the most integrity for them – may in some way even be healing.

Brother...

If we want to let it be equally as good for them to say “No” as “Yes”, then – to keep our own energy intact – we need to somehow just not care whether they give or not.   We need to plant our feet, take a deep breath, hold our center – and simply be glad we asked.  That’s all: we did our part in the dance.  Now we turn it over.

Now here’s where there’s a delicate paradox.  At the same time that you don’t care whether they give or not – while you say to yourself that “No” may be just the right answer for them – still it’s OK and maybe useful to have another part of your mental machinery that is pulling for them to say “Yes”.

Why?  Because, overall, yes is more life-affirming than no.  It’s good to say yes. It’s a celebration of life.  Be happy for them that they are in a place of yes.  If they are in a conflicted place, cheer for them to break through their no barriers and choose life.

Bless them whichever way they choose.  This is good for you too.  Embrace life. Don’t ask because you are supposed to ask or because it will look good in your numbers.  Ask because you believe in the cause.  Ask because you want be filled with yes energy.  Ask because you want to offer your customer the chance to have a yes moment.  Ask  because it’s a chance – in a job that sometimes can become robotic – for real human contact.  Ask because otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

Bring out all your compassion for customers who are in a place of no.  It’s a painful place.  I say “Great”, whether people say yes or no – and I really mean it.  When I say “Have a great day”, I lean into it even a little more with people who have said no.  “I think your day maybe hasn’t been all that great so far.  I wish for it to get better.”

I give them all my big toothy grin at the end.  If they think I’m a goof, so be it.  It may help them dispel any energy that accumulated during this transaction.  It might be right.

My blessings list

All day long at the grocery store, I ask people “What’s been a highlight of your day?” I breeze right past “How are you today?”, which tends to pull for a lot of bullshit.  If they beat me to the punch and ask me how I am, I give the obligatory “Fine” (which they are liable not to believe any way) and jump to the good stuff.

If they reflect my question as “What’s been the highlight of my day?”, I correct them.  “A highlight, not the highlight – you don’t have to figure out what was the biggest one.  Just pick any one of the little ones.”

Part of the point of this is to get us/me to focus on all these little ones – to notice that they are happening.  Another, less secular version of this is my blessings list.  I periodically wander away from this – forget to do it for months at a time.  Then a big blessing is that something brings me back to it.

Absent practices like this I become a little unintentional atheist.  My ego/mind takes over and convinces me that all is chaos, that I am alone and helpless in this big, uncaring world.

I can create my list in lots of formats: maybe my fav is here in my laptop, but I can also write them down in my little pocket-sized spiral-bound notebook or aloud as I drive home from work.  When my dog was still alive, I used to do this almost every evening as I took him for a walk – that was a juicy way to do it, because I was surrounded by blessings: being out for a walk, my neighborhood which I liked, the company of my dog who I loved.  I can directly trace the loss of this practice – two years ago, yikes! – to the loss of my dog.

This example, from my morning, shows how little these blessings can be:

  • Tuesday – 2/9
    • 67 biltmore – spotting that brochure just when i was trying to remember the name of the restaurant
    • google calendar – lots of good stuff, really apprecitaing my smartphhone
    • i get to get a new phone in July!
    • I can feel so good about something happening so many months from now!
    • making plans with the cortes family
    • Netflix worked – Kung Fu Panda shipped
    • a whole new world of Netflix! (I used to belong, but not for several years now)
    • I am having a very pleasant time at my desk thismorning
    • I made myself a nice breakfast

 

I am making plans to attend a meditation at the Open Heart meditation center here in Asheville.  Just thinking about this – and talking with Steve Swearingen and Bob Lantis, two friends who attend and are very enthused about it – has got me going back to two practices that massage my heart: my prayer list (which I resumed a couple of weeks ago) and this blessings list, resumed yesterday.

What’s going to happen when i crack the book Steve loaned me or listen to the meditation CD – much less make it to the actual center?!

God winking at us

About ten minutes ago, I was wandering around my apartment looking for something (I can’t even remember what anymore).  It’s a sign of how random are the workings of my mind that i also cannot anymore remember why I was trying to remember the name of the restaurant on Biltmore Ave. where I have had some lovely times hanging out with my laptop.

I remember now!  I was (for some reason I no longer remember) thinking about having tea (or juice) next Thursday with my friend Kelly McKibben at Nectar Cafe and Juice Bar on Merrimon in North Asheville.  My sweet friends Tim and Pippin Boissy (it’s her birthday today – Ha, Facebook started this whole thread) opened this restaurant a few months ago and I have not even made it there.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it were to become a fav new internet cafe for me?  I could rotate with Green Sage/Westgate and that other restaurant on Biltmore.  I felt a little wave of frustration at not being able to remember its name, but thought that probably it would eventually come to me.

Then I walked into my bedroom, still looking for that elusive something, and on the lower shelf of my nightstand, peering clearly out at me from a perch that I swear i have not looked at for months, was a brochure for the restaurant named 67 Biltmore!  I took that brochure to order side dishes for my Christmas feast at Johanna and Tom’s – which I sure didn’t do, I brought a sixpack of beer.  Why was that brochure still sitting there?  So it could tickle my funny bone today?

When my son was in his early teens, I used to point out these synchronicities to him and refer to them as “God winking at us”.  In spite of (or because of) his mom dragging him to church every Sunday, he was an early atheist.  He thought this was one of the stupidest things I ever said (amidst strong competition).  A few years ago (he’s now 40), he told me that now he says it sometimes to himself when he encounters this kind of uncanny coincidence.

Our atheist mind sees all these coincidences as random, the mindless careening of the billiard balls of life.  The mind/ego experiences itself as separate/alone and thinks that’s true of everything.  But we know better, right?

Tomorrow I’ll post a poem that a wrote a few years ago about all this.  It’s called “The Whale”.