Today started out just fine. I got up, took care of the tiny ones, ate breakfast, and got ready for work. My second Wednesday at my summer job. I didn’t expect anything eventful, although I am keeping a list of “isms.” You know, the kinds of things that only happen while working in retail in the summer. So far, I have “guy demands big discount, can’t prove why”, “music teacher retires and ends up making really cool stuff”, “woman that looks like Liza Minelli frequently wears leopard unitard”, “older folks will always call you ‘honey’”, and, “shrinkage” (yes, I had some guy making that lewd comment to me already and it’s only been a week). However, I think my personal favorite just might be, “of course I will take my shoes off, throw them in a shopping cart, and then I will walk around the dirty warehouse floor barefoot.” Throw in ass money (money pulled from sweaty ass pockets) and the occasional “I’m in too big a hurry for you to be accurate while you are charging me my not so hard earned money, just hurry this up” person, and you have a typical summer day.
About two hours into today, this happened:
“How are you today?” I asked.
“I’m doing good.” He replied.
“Fantastic. Did you find everything you needed?”
“Yes, I did. Thanks! How are you today?” He asked.
“I am doing well.”
“Why are you in such a good mood today? Such a nice smile.”
I replied telling my customer that life was too short to be upset and that the sun was shining. What else did I need?
Then, he said something that I didn’t expect. And working the summers in retail, but particularly at a home improvement store, I have expected a lot. I hear about men’s health problems, toilet backups, discounts that people “deserve”, and you name it.
I thought that maybe, just maybe, he was going to preach to me about his particular religion. This has happened to me more than once. Maybe I have a face that just looks like it needs saving.
I thought that maybe, just maybe, he was going to be like the seven other creepers that can see my wedding ring and yet, they still ask me for dinner. “Only if my husband is invited” is a response that shuts that shit down.
I looked over my shoulder at the customer, and he, with his four sons, were waiting for my reply. I guess I looked like I was thinking about it.
“More to the story?” I asked.
“You’re married, I can see that. Got kids?” Got kids is a question that I “suppose” is “normal” for married women, but it still makes my blood curdle a little. Why else do people get married? No other reason but to have and adore their children? Hmmm… must have missed that. But, I answered him.
“Yes, I have five.”
“FIVE! You have five kids.”
I chucked. “Yeah, I have five kids, twenty feet, and they range in age from seven to forty.”
He got it. Lightbulb engaged. “You must have pets.”
“No, I have kids. They are our babies. And I have three cats and two dogs.”
He said, “Sure. But you’re still in an unusually good mood given the people that we encounter here some days.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I knew where he was coming from. No one said that working in retail was fun. There have been many days that I leave thanking everything, including my shoelaces, that I only work retail seasonally and that I am thank heavens actually doing my life’s work. I have often told myself that it is research for writing such as this. I am grateful for my job and it gets me out of the house and interacting with people, but when it comes to an end, I am just as grateful to go back to doing the work that actually calls to my heart.
“Well, honestly, I have nothing to complain about. I have a roof over my head, I’m not hungry, my family is in good health, and my friends are doing okay. I really am just fine. And I meant it when I said that I was okay just because the sun was out. I suppose if it went into hiding today, I’d still be in a good mood. I genuinely have nothing wrong.”
“That is the best answer.” He, and his four sons, looked pleased. And I was still waiting for the religious pitch.
“Thanks.” I said.
“I wish more people would have that attitude. You know, you walk around and all you see are people in foul moods or they’re not willing to take three seconds to say hello to each other.”
Again, I had to agree with him.
“I think that everyone has a story.” I said.
The man’s face lit up like I’d stuck a lightbulb between his teeth.
“I am an observer and a listener. You learn a lot that way.”
“You do. I’ve been trying to tell my kids that.” He said.
I looked at his sons, “your dad’s right.” His sons looked as if they ranged in age from seven to twelve. They’re too young to understand. But maybe they’ll learn by example.
“Well, I hope to see you more often.” The man said.
“I’m here during the week for the summer, so I am sure you will.”
“Only for the summer?”
“Yep. I only work here May through mid-August.”
“I teach. I am here as my summer gig.”
Then, the floodgates opened. And I was glad I didn’t have a line waiting to checkout. Because this guy was interested.
He asked me what I taught and where. What did I like about the job? What advice would I give his sons?
I answered that last one with “try. And be responsible for yourself. But, I would say, just try. That’s all anyone can ask of you. And don’t expect anything. Earn it. Do the work.”
They are, again, too young to quite grasp the concepts, but maybe, just maybe…
I thought about his question, about there being more to the story, all day. Then I found myself wanting to ask the same question. “Oh, you’re having a good day. Why? What’s the story?”
Interestingly, he asked me about my story and why I was in such a good mood.
He didn’t sell me religion or ask me on a date. He did what I do. He asked about a story.
It was unexpected but it made my day.
Although I don’t know his man’s name, he gave me something to think about and a new way to look at people around me.
“Oh, you’re doing good. Cool. What’s your story?”