Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Post-Rockwellian Warmth.

At the small market where I go to pick up my daily office rations, the staff members are used to seeing my puffy, pre-caffeinated countenance. I sleepwalk into the store almost every weekday morning, creating my own blend of granola from the bulk bins (call it OCD Mix), shuffling over to the dairy case for yogurt, and haphazardly picking up whatever else might serve as lunch.

Outside at that hour, the owner and other workers are usually supervising deliveries. The stockpeople are wheeling hand trucks around, and the co-owner spouse is at the register. Everyone says hello to me; we know each other by sight now, if not yet by name. It's a family-run store where people poke fun at each other a lot, and vendors or regular customers sometimes hang around to chat. I don't have to go there every morning; I just like to.

Being recognized as a regular is a bedrock pleasure in life, one that always takes me by surprise. I'm so reticent, and so inured to spells of urban loneliness, that when a connection does materialize, it earns an inviolable place in my heart.

In London, where I spent a desperately homesick and depressed college year, the man who ran the fruit stand near my dorm in Tooting Bec became so precious to me that I sent him a postcard during winter break. For awhile, I kept in touch by e-mail with the former owner of the frozen yogurt store I frequented in New York. And the chatty man who ran the liquor store across the street from my apartment in D.C. happened to be the only one who said anything remotely comforting after I carelessly put a gash across my car in a parking garage. ("Happens all the time," he said, waving his hand. "Go get it fixed: Pretend you're in college and it's your parents' car, they'll give you a better deal. Go home and relax." I don't know why that calmed me more than the words of my sympathizer-in-chief -- my mom -- but it did.)

On my current street of residence in San Francisco, every fifth person you meet is going to have a circuit short, so part of me wanted a little extra credit for just bringing something to the cash register besides insanity. I hoped that, amid the headshops and bars, this market might become a small haven of residential normalcy. Reassuringly, after six months or so of steady attendance, it did.

One holdout had me puzzled and kind of intimidated: a young guy, who I think is the owners' son, never acknowledged my presence, even in clear one-on-one encounters. Nearly everyone at the store would give me a sign of recognition, except for him. He wasn't rude about it, and it wasn't personal. He just wasn't interested.

When it comes to perceived rejection, my response has always been to fold, early and often. I'd greet everyone else, and quietly maneuver around him -- out of deference, not petulance.

Last week, the barrier inexplicably dissolved. "Cold enough for ya?" he said as he rang me up. I almost turned around to see if he was talking to someone else; eye-contact is not his forte. We proceeded to have a whole exchange about the weather and our home regions -- the most mundane bit of dialogue two people can have, but a fundamental one. Maybe it's because I have almost no friends here, or maybe it's because I'm just this pathetic, but it felt like a tiny triumph.

Anyone picking up what I'm putting down?


  1. Anonymous9:28 AM

    hey did you bring your whip out west?

  2. I think pbdotc is making fun of me but I'm too lame to get the joke.

    kpc -- I remember my mom always cringing at, or trying to avoid, the grocery store run-in. I ended up doing same thing, and think I am worse off for it. My husband is always in favor of making the call, or the greeting, or the gesture, when there's a question. I think he's right.

  3. Oh, I just realized what whip is. I forgot my street sense, pardon me. Yes, I brought my car here.


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