I was waiting in a grocery checkout lane yesterday. I was in my own world not really wanting to chat with anyone, but it was fine because nobody seemed that interested in talking to me. On the periphery of my awareness, I heard the guy in front of me say something like, “Well maybe the lady behind me will want my stickers.” And then I realized I was being pulled into a conversation. This often happens to me. The more I disengage with the world, the more people try to suck me in. Anyway, I responded with a smile as I realized that he was offering me the stamps that go on this doohickey thing that SafeLay is doing as a promotional campaign. You get X number of stickers and it allows you to turn in your completed pamphlet for various pots and pans. I’ve earned one large pot so far, and I’m due for another.
Anyway, when I realized what he was up to, I perked up and tried to be social. He was, after all, giving me something for free. I didn’t want to be rude or ungrateful so I smiled and thanked him profusely (well, it felt like I was overdoing it, but I’d rather overdo then underdo it, ya know?). So he finished paying and left me the stickers on the little counter where (in olden days) people used to write checks. It seemed like he didn’t want to hand it to me. Maybe he thought I had germs? Maybe he was just keeping a polite distance. I don’t know. But there they were, waiting for me.
As I walked over to take his spot, I thanked him again. At this point, I knew I was overdoing it but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I had to fill a void. The void created when one human being makes a generous offer to you and you, as a human/social being, must fill that void with your imaginary hand of connection and solidarity. He was being nice and it was my turn to be nice, too As he walked away, I felt an impulse to go running after him, to thank him all the way to the parking lot, maybe even offer him my phone number. We could become grocery store friends. We could share our differing philosophies on how grocery stores have become warmer or colder over time. Whether it’s better to use the express self-check out lane or be a loyal Luddite and let a person ring up your groceries? Maybe I could buy him coffee and convince him to hang out longer and people watch with me? Maybe I could help him work on his finances since he clearly was clueless in terms of the cost-benefit analysis of saving stickers and getting free kitchenware? I don’t know, but I definitely felt like that transitory moment with a stranger in a checkout lane was incomplete. Thank you, prefrontal cortex, for letting me have closure with this unfinished incident. And thank you, great-gods-of-the-grocery store-checkout lanes-that-determine-our-lot-in-life for offering me this ephemeral insight into the beauty of human connection and (almost) simultaneous dissolution.