I take the time to appreciate little “moments” less frequently now that I’m not in Taiwan. It’s evidence of the busy, hurried life I live here as opposed to the sweet simplicity of there, I believe.
And then a few specific minutes at Walgreens occurred, and I’ve been thinking about it since.
I run to Walgreens after class to grab a couple things I know will be cheapest there. Whether due to the time of the day or the coupons and discounts offered this week or the fact that Halloween is in two days, it’s busy.
I’m not the sort to get grumpy waiting in line when stores are busy; I read Us Weekly while I wait because goodness knows it’s not worth even $4. But I do always get uncomfortable when others are grumpy and rude to the check-out clerk. I brace myself for the grumpiness as I get in line behind three middle school-aged boys and a middle-aged man.
The homeless man gets in line behind me with a shopping cart full of blankets, cardboard and a few things I can’t even recognize. His boots are tied to the handle of the cart, hanging down off the side. I smell him immediately — the same distinct smell I would smell when I walked by the homeless men and women who slept a couple blocks away from my apartment in New York City. I cringe at the smell, and then cringe at the fact that his smell made me cringe.
He’s talking to himself… or to someone not there. He seems to be playing through scenes of trauma and confusion. It almost sounds as if he’s recounting days after Hurrican Katrina. I feel uncomfortable, honestly. He’ll push his cart into me, he’ll comment on what I’m wearing, he’ll try to steal some candy.
I look up to see the three middle-schoolers throw three “scary” masks onto the counter. And then dump onto the counter wadded up $1 bills and coins out of a Ziploc bag. Oh great, this is going to take forever to count out, and everyone is going to get irritated.
I recognize the check-out clerk who’s here today. She has an accent I haven’t heard until recently, so I think it may be Bosnian. She scans their masks and tells them the total cost. The boys try to count the money themsevles, all of them at once. She smiles and waits patiently. They get confused, so she asks if she can help. She counts it out in front of them, finding they have a dollar extra.
Excited about the possibility of buying something else, they ask her to hold on while they examine the candy. I’m sure by now that the man behind them and in front of me is irritated… but he’s smiling. Grabbing their bag of masks and a candy bar, they run out the door and hop on their bikes.
Now that’s something you just don’t see anymore, the middle-aged man says. Nope, isn’t that something?, the clerk says. She scans his stuff — some cough medicine, cough drops, chips, and M&Ms.
He opens his wallet to pull out money, and I notice a wallet-sized picture of a young man in a Marines uniform inside. The man’s eyes seem to linger on the picture before he pulls out his money. Thanks much, he says, smiling, as he grabs his bag and goes.
As the clerk is scanning my things, the homeless man behind me places a $20 bill on the counter. The clerk hands me my bag and receipt, and I linger a bit — putting my shopping basket back slowly — to see what will happen. Surely the staff at this Walgreens view him as a bit of a pest since he’s always hanging around outside.
Hey Tom, how are you today?
Would you like to buy something, or do you want me to give you change for this?
In fives or tens today?, she asks cheerfully and patiently.
And then she looks over at me… and smiles.