I think I learn as much about myself and the way things really are in the grocery store as in any academic situation I’ve encountered in college. I’m not just talking about relearning each time that a grocery list really would help, or learning not to say too final a goodbye when you run into someone in the Hispanic foods aisle because you’ll likely run into them again in cereals, and then it’s just awkward. Maybe it’s just the sheer volume of potential memory triggers that aisles and aisles of different products provide, but I feel enlightened just about every time I leave the place.
This time around, however, was a different (or perhaps a more disappointing enlightenment). I was trying to spend under $15 dollars and grabbing the bare essentials when I made my way over to the frozen entrees (I know, I know, so sue me) to see if there were any good sales. There standing as a tragic monument to solitude was a man who upon hearing the squeaking wheels of the cart I was riding (not pushing) looked up, as earnest for a hello’ as a dog for his bone.
He had a mop of gray facial hair in the regent style and severely yellowing around the mouth, which the smell that filled my nostrils as I came near told me was from excessive smoking. He had wire rim glasses and cradled a carton of chocolate milk like it was his child. I don’t remember how we went from being two strangers admiring different brands of frozen Salisbury steak in gravy to old friends, but we were suddenly chatting and laughing about nothing (must’ve been something).
Eventually frozen manicotti and meatballs wasn’t an alluring enough conversation topic to continue to keep me from the other things I had to get done that night so I turned to leave. As I veered south and sailed forward with a tailwind he walked after me and came near again and held out his hand and said “My name is BJ, what’s your name?” I said that it was Mariah and his eyes welled up with tears. “My daughter’s name is Mariah,” and looking into his sincere and shining eyes, I almost believed him; “Mariah Carey.”
As we shook hands I glanced over to see that the woman behind him was motioning to me that he was crazy and that I should probably get. I’m no fool, I’m pretty sure that BJ with his chocolate milk and the chicken-fried steak he finally decided on, doesn’t have a daughter named after a pop-diva superstar. He may not even have a daughter at all, but the emotion in his eyes (and I say this being an actor who can cry when it’s demanded of me) was real.
Although I know she was only trying to protect me, I have a hard time with the idea of someone motioning to me from behind this man. Seeing the way that people hugged as close to the other side of the aisle (as far from him as they could) as they sneaked past was a little depressing for me. I find that sometimes the breaking point at which a person has elephant man, untouchability status is, in fact, heartbreaking.
I’m not really one to talk; I’ll admit that I spent a little longer discerning the differences between brands of graham crackers to avoid running into him again. I even considered asking someone to walk out with me in case he was outside waiting to talk to me some more. First of all, where do I come off being so judgmental that I’d put my trust in another stranger that I know even less? Maybe my fears were not unfounded, but I didn’t see him again, and he was merely left with the experience of someone taking a couple of minutes to acknowledge his existence.
Why are people, (myself included) so bent on their own quest for perfection that they feel the need to look down on the people that appear to be on a lower rung of the ladder? I wonder how one can progress from just having a celestial checklist and doing all the right things, to becoming a celestial being; not selective in who deserves a smile or some of our love.