The people that you meet

August 12, 2008

I’m thinking of that classic Sesame Street song about people in your neighbourhood, “the people that you meet each day”.

We have a small, local supermarket run by two or three incredibly old people, with a few young people (who could easily be their offspring) working for them. If you want super fast impersonal service, you shouldn’t go there. The people are friendly and never in a hurry.

The older people greet customers as they come in and wish them well as they leave the shop. Often the old bloke asks if I need a hand carrying my bags to my car.  I’ve seen his stooped form helping other customers with their shopping. However, he looks as though he could carc it any day and I wouldn’t want it to be on account of him hauling my shopping.

All of the young people look as though they would be perfectly cast in a movie like “Super Bad” or “Napoleon Dynamite”. One of them has been working the check out at this supermarket for years. He is a quietly dorky guy, who holds his body as though he doesn’t want to take up too much space. His demeanor screams, “don’t notice me”. I occasionally find it difficult to understand what he says. His voice is incredibly quiet and he tends to mumble. However, I’ve realised that in his own way he is friendly. His replies are intelligent and eventhough he doesn’t often make eye contact, he smiles. One day I realised that he actually said, “Have fun!” as his parting remark after handing over my change and receipt . I left the store wondering if I’d heard him right. Sure enough, he said it the next time and the next. If you don’t listen for him to say it, its easy to miss. But now the kids and I wait for it. The humour of it is not lost on them.

The guy who works in our video shop works alone. He is a wiry guy and a smoker. You often see him out the front of the shop having his break with a cigarette. He looks as though he could be pretty cool in some circles – a Harley Club maybe? He wears jeans and a leather jacket. He rarely talks and never smiles. If he does try to communicate its in grunt-like monosyllables.

Once we hired the Ninja Turtles. Inspired by the movie, Sally drew little pictures of turtles in action poses on scraps of paper from a narrow pad. Some ended up hanging on fridge magnets. I liked one of the pictures so much that I asked her if I could have it. I wanted to use it as a book mark. But my favorite picture disappeared. I didn’t think much of it at the time.

It came to pass that we returned the video a day late. The next time the kids and I went to hire a DVD I wondered whether he would fine us. We took our new choice up to the counter. The guy grunted as usual as he took the case off me and turned to find the DVD. But when I told him our address he turned around and in a monotonic voice, with a smile just discernible at the corner of his mouth said, “Who drew the picture of the ninja turtles?”. The four kids and I were absolutely stunned that he’d spoken, not to mention our confusion about how he ended up with one of her pictures. Sally quietly owned up to the drawing by putting her hand up.

Outside of the shop we relived our surprise and slowly the humour of the situation sunk in. Their father had slipped the picture into the case, hoping that the drawing might get us out of a fine. 

Now whenever we’re in the car on the way to the video shop, one of the kids invariably quotes “Who drew the picture of the ninja turtles?” in an almost perfect impersonation of the dead-pan voice. We laugh.


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