Thursday, August 6, 2009

Joe and the "Be Careful!" bag

In the two months I've lived in my new house I've gotten used to our new neighborhood. I like the suburbs, at least thus far. Things are far less crowded in the shops when I run around doing errands. The traffic isn't as bad. The views are absolutely lovely. Even shopping at the grocery store is slightly different.

The store itself is newer and the staff somewhat less eccentric. Although, truth be told I enjoy odd people. They make life more interesting. One thing it has in common with the metro stores, and probably all the other stores in this chain super market is that developmentally delayed and challenged individuals are employed as baggers. That's something we're all so used to that it actually stands out to me when a grocery store chain doesn't have that particular policy. Whole Foods, for instance, does not have the policy in place. A fact that bothers me, probably because I have a developmentally delayed niece. Shape up, Whole Foods.

Anyway, Joe and the Be-Careful-Bag quickly became part of the rhythm of my life. It happened week after week. I'd be standing in line with my cart, awaiting checkout, when the same dark-haired, pretty manager would gesture to me, "I'll take you on aisle 9, ma'am."

I'd take my cart over to the aisle in question and listen to the pretty young manager, with her sidekick Joe, go through the ritual of bagging my groceries.

"That goes in your fruits and vegetables bag, Joe." "Joe? Joe, that goes in your be-careful-bag."

It's an interaction that has become part of my weekly life. I've been so impressed by how patient the young manager is in repeating the same phrases over and over. She seems to have an endless supply of it. Taking a page from her book, I've started grouping my groceries in clumps of frozen, delicate, fruits and vegetables when putting them onto the belt. Might as well try and make Joe's life a little bit easier.

The fact is not much really separates my lot in life from Joe's. I had better luck, plus genetics and an accident of birth were kinder to me, that's about it. Something about my canvas grocery bags stumps Joe a bit. They can hold more than the plastic grocery bags. I think that's how the manager learned to spot me, and to pull me out of line, taking Joe with her. Every now and then I end up with an ungodly heavy bag, and an amusingly light bag, but a bit of shifting in the back of the car before I head for home and that's all solved.

I admit to being fascinated by the concept of the be-careful-bag. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our interactions with other people, the difficulties in life came with that knowledge? "Oh that person? Oh yes, you'll have to put her in the be-careful-bag. Watch what you say." "I've got a meeting at noon today, better make sure to bring the be-careful-bag with me, the projections are looking iffy." "Make sure to put Paul in a be-careful-bag today, things aren't going well with his son."

Life doesn't get grouped like that, of course, at least not literally. I think we all have people, situations, and projects that could do with a be-careful-bag. Handle with care.

When you get right down to it, Joe is a person who ended up slotted into a particular designation in life. He requires just a little more patience, but don't we all in some situation or other? Leave me alone with a set of instructions on how to build something and at completion I'm likely to end up in the "needs a stiff drink" bag of life.

So yesterday when the dark-haired manager was nowhere to be found, and I still ended up in Joe's line, I began grouping my groceries as I've grown accustomed to doing. That was when the woman in front of me, harried, tired and surrounded by children lost her patience entirely.

"What are you doing? They'll break." She snapped. I don't blame her. Not really. Who knows what bag she belonged in that day? Maybe she didn't feel well. Maybe there is a world of problems awaiting her. Maybe the tab on the groceries was upsetting. I don't know. "God! Could I get a different bag boy here?"

We all reach the end of our tethers at different points, and that poor woman was clearly at the end of hers. The cashier stepped in and took over for Joe. As the woman left Joe recited the lines he says to all customers, "Do you need help out?" and "Have a good day!"

You know, it isn't the be-careful-bag litany that really brought Joe into my line of sight. Made him stand out as a person. It was that he always puts a particular emphasis on the word good. As if he is sincerely wishing the person leaving an actual, good day. It clearly caught the woman's attention also, and a look of regret washed over her face for a moment as she wished him a good day in return.

As my purchases made their way towards Joe he took hold of one of my canvas bags uncertainly. The cashier working with him clearly wasn't used to the drill.

"Joe? Joe that's your be-careful-bag." I said and handed him the eggs. It was as if I'd uttered a magic incantation. Every now and then an item would stump him, but in the past two months it turns out that I'm highly trainable. "That goes in your cold-bag, Joe."

I'm not writing this because I think Joe is pitiable. He's not. He's a young man, working hard and actually putting effort into doing a good job. Safeway, the chain that employees him, helped him find a place in this world. When you get right down to it that's what all of us search for throughout the course of our lives.

No, I'm writing this because something struck me. Joe might require more patience, but he gets it and at the end of his task he'll wish you a good day, and he'll mean it. Regardless of whether you're kind and helpful, or short tempered and prickly.

Maybe that was all that woman needed to find a way to gather her strength again. Maybe that's all we need to be taken out of our own be-careful-bags at any given time.

Have a good day.


Kathryn said...

Oh, i do so enjoy reading the thoughts you share!

Thank you so much for your kindness & this reminder to take a step back when someone is ill-tempered or short & give them the "benefit of the doubt" that they are having a hard time.

Too often we make such an encounter about ourselves & not recognizing that usually the other person is having such a hard time.

:) I hope you have a lovely day.

Land of shimp said...

I hope you do too, Kathryn, and a wonderful weekend on top of that!

Thank you for your kind words :-) They're very encouraging, and much appreciated!

The Bug said...

I've just spent the evening reading all your posts because I enjoy the way you look at life, & because we have the same opinions about a lot of things. You're a MUCH deeper thinker than I am, & more sure of yourself, so I think it will be good for me to follow you around, in a non-stalker kind of way.

Anyway, about Joe - I have so much more patience for the Joes in the checkout lane than I do for the teenagers who keep looking at everything instead of my groceries or having conversations that distract them from the task at hand. Ring my groceries already! Talk to ME if you're feeling chatty! Or at least be having an interesting conversation with the next cashier to make it worth my time... Ah, I can see that I need to go back to Zambia & learn to slow down a bit...

A human kind of human said...

This is an excellent post. I also know a couple of "Joes" and get very upset for them when people are just plain nasty to them. Thanks for being so helpful and kind to him. As for Bug's comment: Remember Bug, if you go back to Zambia, the cashiers will also be chatting to other cashiers and bystanders AND THEY WILL BE DOING IT IN A STRANGE LANGUAGE!