The Decency Backlash

Decency may have suffered a blow last week, but it may not have been a death blow.

Despite the oppressive malaise of mid-January, I forced myself out of pajamas into mascara and went grocery shopping.  The ice that made a thick sheet over sidewalks and driveways was just beginning to melt. The sun, though, was still missing.  I believe it was going on day nine.

I trudged behind my cart, joyless and devoid of optimism. I made my way past produce and around the deli where I took a sharp turn into natural foods.  A man about the same age as me was stocking organic yogurts.  I had to excuse myself as he was in the way of my desired kefir. He asked the polite, perfunctory question How you doing?

Being physically and temperamentally incapable of manufacturing mirth I responded with an obligatory but dishonest, I’m alright.

“Just alright?”  He responded, pulling himself out of the refrigerated case with much more concern than quality customer service merited.

It felt like he was ready to listen and either I looked like a serious sorry sack or something else was afoot. “Yeah.”  I lied as I didn’t want to get into my whole mid-life existential crisis aggravated by a sprained foot here in front of the nut milks. “This weather has really got me down.”

Satisfied with my answer, we ended our abrupt exchange and I pushed my cart down the canned goods aisle.  Later when I was at the checkout and unloading my items onto the beltway, he approached again.  He held up his phone for me to see that the weather was improving and the sun was scheduled for an appearance soon.

I thanked him.  It was a heartfelt gesture even if it seemed out of sync with most grocery store interactions.  I left a bit puzzled, but feeling slightly better.

Later, I mentioned this odd anecdote to my son as I was driving him home.  He hypothesized that the man was hitting on me, which is the lens through which a teenage boy might view everything.  I don’t think that was it.  First, I think I wear Mom like some people wear jeans, and secondly it just didn’t feel like that.  I later told my husband this story, a man much more familiar with my feminine wiles, and he completely agreed the man was not hitting on me.  He offered the explanation that it was probably extra special customer service because I have been identified as a loyal but pain in the ass customer who has no time for coupons and no regard for sale items.  (To be fair the manager did once give me four dollars out of his own pocket because I complained about sour smelling salami.)

But I think it’s something completely different.  I think it’s decency backlash.  I think 2016 left all of us a bit bruised.  I think we as individuals will pull the reins back and make an effort to be more decent to each other, even if our leaders fail to demonstrate a way.



Beware of the Banana

I almost took a picture of a homeless man. And it wouldn’t have been of the empathetic National Geographic kind.  It would’ve been the self-indulgent kind.  It started off innocent enough.   I encountered this fella on a city side street, not far from the library.  He was scruffy, but not in an outstanding way.  He had Einstein hair, a baggy pair of khakis, a Walgreens bag, and he was eating a banana. At first glance, he fit in with the locals. There’s a college nearby that hosts many harried academics who forgo meticulous grooming for the pursuit of the higher mind so the only thing that stuck out about this chap was the banana. And let’s face it, banana consumption is comedy gold.  Somewhere between the garish yellow and the simian similarity- dignity is lost and any trace of seriousness is transfigured to silliness. This is why I love gorilla suits and never eat bananas in public.  The light turned green and I never had a chance to unearth my phone from the bowels of my handbag.  All night long I put banana eating and blogging in the writing rock tumbler.

The next day I drove the same route and there was the same man, on the same corner.  It was blogging serendipity.  Was he eating a banana?  Yes! What “fruituitous” serendipity. This was the best of luck.  Then I noticed that he still had the same Walgreens bag.  It sagged with the weight of its contents which were now visible, a browning bunch of bananas.  Something was amiss.

This was a homeless man.  My God, I had almost taken a picture of a homeless man.  Am I the kind of person who takes pictures of  homeless people for the amusement of others?  What a sickening thought. The light turned green and I drove away ashamed of myself.

Every time that I write I learn something.  Sometimes it’s about writing, sometimes it’s about myself, and sometimes it’s about the world.  This was the trifecta. I do not write to denigrate other people, I do not want to be someone who finds amusement in the misfortune of another, and I do not want to forgo my moral character in the pursuit of content.

That is a New Year’s Resolution I will work hard to keep. That and wearing a gorilla suit with some regularity.