I must have one of those faces.
While not consistently the case throughout my life, I have found that in the five years since my twentieth birthday I can go few places without being talked to, accosted, asked for an opinion or, in particularly concerning circumstances, fondled.
Allow me to explain.
I stopped at the grocery store this afternoon after walking my dog and on my way home. I’ve had a hankering for fresh asiago cheese and so, I endeavored to indulge myself and make it a part of my evening meal. As I stood in front of the refrigerated display that houses the sundry fresh cheeses in the store trying to discern which was the best deal, a middle aged woman walked up beside me and picked up a brick of cheese marked “Dubliner”.
“Have you tried this?” she turned to face me.
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t,” I replied in a manner that I hoped would give her the idea that I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to be lectured at and or spoken to about cheeses.
“You haven’t?!” she gasped, not at all taking the bait. “Oh G-d!!! It’s absolutely to DIE for!” This middle aged woman had, in a matter of seconds, begun speaking at an above average conversational volume. A few people in the neighboring produce aisle actually turned to see where the commotion was coming from.
“It’s SO FLAVORFUL AND RICH!!! SOOOOOO FLAVORFUL!”
She was at this point moaning in the grocery store. For my part, I began to look around to see where the person who dared her to do this was. As they were nowhere to be found, I can only assume that they are of an above-average talent when playing Hide and Seek.
“You want to know what really gets me about this cheese though?”
I was very tempted to say that I absolutely, unequivocally was not as I found myself suddenly very fearful about what “what really gets me” might possibly mean- and the connotations, even now, are endless.
I elected to say nothing.
“It’s over a dollar and a half cheaper in Bayfield! Bayfield! I’m going to be headed there later this week and so I think that I’ll just save myself a dollar and a half and buy it there! I can’t for the life of me understand how a grocer in such a small town gets it so much cheaper than we do! After all, we’re on the main highway and closer to their distribution centers! Not only that, but our town is bigger than theirs! We’re a main municipality! The most populous city in the whole county!” She paused for a moment, considering the implications of what she has just said. “I wonder if he has an in with someone somewhere,” she concluded.
I was stunned. Absolutely speechless.
“Speaking of cheese,” she abruptly halted what had up to this point been an endless wave of verbiage. “I’ve been trying to find cottage cheese for the past half hour. Do you know where it is by any chance? I’ve been wandering around like a cat in heat.”
“I think it’s in the dairy section, ma’am,” I guessed.
It was at that moment that I realized what this woman just said. While she showed no outward signs of insanity and indeed, was even put-together and dressed well for a Durangoan- meaning that she wore a blouse and pants that matched and didn’t pair her work attire with Crocs- she seemed to me crazier and crazier with each passing moment.
“Yes ma’am. I’m sure the cottage cheese is in the dairy section,” I said with every confidence, though neither had nor have the slightest idea where the cottage cheese might be in a grocery store. Still, I gestured with my finger in the direction that put her as far from me as possible.
“Oh! That makes so much sense! Why didn’t I think of that?! The DAIRY section! Young man, you’ve just saved this kitty a whole lot of time! Thank you!” she smiled widely and walked away.
A few moments passed as I tried desperately not to think of what she could have possibly meant by referring to herself as “kitty”.
“Cottage cheese in the dairy aisle! Across the store! Thank you!!!” her voice screamed to my back from a few yards away.
Suddenly, saving a few cents on generic cheese didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I chose the nearest wedge and made a bee line for the checkout stand. I sincerely feared that the next thing I’d hear would be her shouting, or even worse, whispering in my ear, “MEOW!”
The overwhelming awkwardness of this moment strikes me for several reasons. I cannot help but wonder if G-d is bored, as this is not the first time that such an awkward interaction has occurred for me and it most likely will not be the last, either. I’ve been asked my opinion on the state of American sexuality at a Redbox kiosk, given a critical dissertation on the film, “Watchmen” by a seventy-year old woman and had my posterior grabbed by an overbearing soccer mom at the local post office.
These odd events and interactions occur so often that I now tend to respond poorly, even incorrectly to legitimate, reasonable questions from well-meaning and intentioned people. An elderly gentleman walked up to me at the gas station as I was pumping gas recently and asked, “Son, do you know where you are?”
I paused for a moment as I sized him up. He held no map, he didn’t look like he was lost and so I responded, “Do you mean other than at the gas station?” I didn’t intend to be snide or sarcastic. It was, for me, a very legitimate clarification.
It was not for him.
Still, G-d’s boredom is only part of what really bothers me about these things. I am a large and outspoken proponent of being human with people, of having visceral connections with them, acknowledging their existence and, if possible, even making their existence a bit better. It is for these reasons that I ask everyone- from the barista at the coffee shop to the customer service representative for student loan processing- how they are doing, how their day is treating them and thanking them for anything and everything that they do for me.
I believe in small courtesies. A lot.
But, I also believe that small courtesies can mean being left the hell alone while choosing cheese, mailing a package or renting a movie- and I can’t for the life of me understand why no one else seems to take that into consideration when they decide that they need to lecture me about home rule municipalities, Kim Kardashian’s divorce and, inexplicably, the cut of my pants.
I must have one of those faces.