Tuesday, February 3, 2009

An odd occurrence

i was waiting for my turn at the save-on-foods deli counter when a fellow shopper struck up a conversation. "do you mind my asking: how do you tie your scarf so that it hangs like that?" i was startled and pleased. it's what i think of as the sydney look, though everybody does it now. i studied other scarf-wearers in australia, 2002, until i learned the loop-it-doubled-around-your head-and-poke-the-ends-through trick. i was pleased she'd asked and happy to demonstrate, there in front of the cold cuts. "oh!," she said, "you double it up." she pondered for a second. "i wonder if my scarf is long enough?" i said i thought it was. it was a very pretty scarf, red with flowers embroidered on it, and i asked whether she'd done the needlework herself. she laughed, sounding embarassed. "no, heavens no, it came that way. from india." i said it was lovely.

(the woman behind the counter asked if 296g was close enough to 300g. yes.)

my fellow customer pulled her scarf off and said she'd try it! i coached her through the motions, she worrying all the while that the scarf wouldn't be long enough, but of course it was. "bravo!," i said, "it looks perfect."

(i ordered a couple sticks of chorizo: no, not german sausage, the mexican one. bright red. yes. right. two please.)

my new friend seemed quite pleased with her look but confessed that she was a dunce where these matters were concerned. i said, "oh, i know what you mean! i bought a shirt recently that came with an online instructional video detailing all the ways you could wear it. the sales clerk talked me into trying it on, and the second i did, i realized that i really wanted to be the kind of person who could wear a shirt like that -- bold, whimsical, playful and so on -- but the second i got home i realized the shirt was smarter than me." "an instructional video!," she said. "i think it would be a long time before i bought a shirt that came with an instructional video." "i know," i agreed, "right?"

i picked up my sliced turkey, smiled, and turned away.

a few minutes later, she came after me.

"you," she said, and leaned in for emphasis, "you are a treasure. never forget that!" she slid something into my cart and scuttled away.

between the clamshell spinach and the snap peas was a hand-lettered red envelope saying "Just For You." inside, a card, generic enough, the kind you buy in packages of eight or ten. the picture is a hanging flower basket. inside she has written, "Your bright cheerful attitude is such a blessing to everyone around you. Jesus loves you with a never ending unconditional love." behind the card is a pamphlet called "Steps to Peace with God," and inside that, a ten-dollar bill.

of all these things, it's the ten bucks i find most discomfiting. the card is sweet and although i find the sentiment a bit creepy, i can see that it comes from a good place. it's pretty cool to walk around a grocery store handing out cards to strangers, and you can bet i filed that one away for future use. but ten dollars? ten christian dollars? i still think of ten bucks as a lot of money -- more than you'd give to a stranger. she stuck a post-it note to the bill saying, "relax and treat yourself to a special coffee break." does special coffee cost ten dollars? i guess so.... but do i look like i can't afford my own special coffee? do i look like i need the money? i don't think i need it. i'm bad with finances, no doubt, but honestly i make a good living. no, i definitely don't need ten dollars from this woman. in fact, i'm pretty sure i'm better off than she is: after all, didn't i learn how to tie my scarf six or seven years ago on a whole other continent? i wondered if i should go after her and say excuse me, sorry, that's really sweet and i see where you're coming from, but aren't there tons of other people that could really, really use ten dollars?

what am i going to do with it?

i'm lying a little here. the really discomfiting part, though for all the same reasons, is the line, "I'll be praying for you."


jen alabiso said...

wow. my first reaction - ick. my second reaction? well, she's RIGHT, you are a treasure, those of us you call friend consider ourselves (well, okay, I consider MYSELF) wicked lucky...so, yes, please, treat yourself to something nice and accept her warm wishes and let her prayers go where they will. you DO deserve the kindnesses.
my third reaction? yeah, ick.

for me, the question becomes, why does religion make it suspect?

Heather Zwicker said...

ok, jen, i think ten bucks buys a special coffee for EACH of us. :)

but yes, you're right, i'm left feeling like a misanthrope somehow. the woman wanted to make my day, she was "led" to give me money, and all i can do is wash my hands after?

it's complicated...

Anthony said...

as a christian (well vaguely in a liberal sense of the word), the whole thing creeps me the fuck out...

but about the prayer thing, i pray for a lot of people, and mostly it is a way to keep them in my thots, and i rarely tell them that i am praying for them

i have been v. much in the right hand knows not what the left hand is doing school...but that might be growing up in a pretty severe evangelical tradition (which might be also where yr discomfort comes from)

Anonymous said...

Also ick. Like powdered sugar hiding the arsenic.

Once, across from the casino in Thunder Bay, a woman (I guessed she'd just won big) insisted on handing Rhys a five-dollar bill. We left it as an extra tip for the waitress at breakfast.

Shawna Lemay said...

whew. that is complicated. i suppose she's really some expert at knotting scarves. you'll see her around town sporting a scarf with some elaborate knot one day I bet.

Anonymous said...

Was this the Save-On on 109th? I offered to keep an eye on a ladies' groceries for her while she went to customer service, and when she returned she insisted on giving me $10....
I would have fought harder to return it, but she was a LOT longer at customer service than I had expected :)

鐵板豆腐Fay said...