So I’m at Trader Joe’s last week shooting the poop with the cashier. For those who don’t know, Trader Joe’s is an über-hip grocery store that sells the basics along with funky gourmet items and lots of things covered in chocolate; pistachios, sunflower seeds and even edamame.
The other distinguishing characteristic of TJ’s is the cashiers, who are apparently trained to engage customers in small talk. Most of this small talk revolves around all the delicacies in your shopping cart, which they hold up, saying things like, “oh, I love these!” or “these are my favorite!” Still, it’s all rather friendly and makes one say to oneself, “gee, how I love Trader Joe’s!”
Anyway, the cashier is engaging me in the requisite small talk. First, he holds up my chocolate covered peanut butter cups and tells me how much he adores peanut butter. Then he tells me he also loves cheese. As I’m trying to come up with clever things to say about the Gouda in my cart, two little kids with their mother queue up behind me doing cute kid things like absent-mindedly blowing spittle bubbles on their lips and wearing pink coats with frogs on them.
The cashier makes a gushy face and asks me, “Do you have kids?”
“Um, no,” I answer.
He asks, “You want any?”
What in God’s name? Do I want children?!? Sir, you have just stepped from small talk into giantly humongous, life-altering big talk.
Mind you, I’d been having a rough week. Money had become tight, the job was in flux and my personal life had hit a snag. Whenever I arrive at these challenging moments, I go into full-on worry mode, obsessing over questions like, “will the stars ever align to bring me the creative life I crave, will I ever get ahead of my finances, will I ever settle into a space where things hum along smoothly?” But my greatest concerns are having love and family, so life’s occasional rough spots and snags create mucho anxiety.
In other words, Dude had lousy timing.
What was I supposed to say? How does one answer such a question in the time it takes to ring up a bag of groceries? What if I started sobbing into my purse, was he going to take me for a coffee and offer a shoulder to cry on?
So, I answer, “good question,” and hope it ends there. No such luck. The cashier goes on to tell me he wants kids but his wife doesn’t. They’ve been married for years and he loves her but oh how it kills him to imagine a life sans family. And I’m thinking, ‘can I just buy my chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds and be done with it? Since when did a trip to the grocery store become group therapy?’
The rest of my day was shot. I moped, I pouted, I obsessively read online horoscopes to know when this rough patch would flatten out again. And I decided to hate Trader Joe’s.
But then I started feeling bad for the cashier. So overwhelmed was he by his familial dilemma, he couldn’t even stop himself from talking about it with a complete stranger. Every bubble-blowing, frog-coat-wearing kid who steps through his line probably breaks his heart a little bit more.
I know what it’s like to have the entire world be a reminder of all your unfulfilled wishes. We all do, I suppose. Everyone’s fighting the same battles, sharing the same longings. So maybe next time I’m at Trader Joe’s, I’ll send some good thoughts the cashier’s way.
But no way in heck I’m standing in his line.
[Image from pos-university.com]