Monday, October 30, 2006

The Last Customer’s Bag

Unfortunately, my work has me sitting down and indoors much of my time. So, it’s a pleasure to walk for my everyday short errands. A walk frequently improves my disposition. Like it or not, I’m better off if I stop to take notice of the world around me and make an effort to be courteous, if not friendly, to the folks I encounter.

Fresh air is good.

Several years ago on one of my walking excursions, it was in late October, an incident provided a one-time-only perspective. As it unfolded it felt like a scene in a movie. Perhaps that was suggested to me by the fact I was in a video store, looking over the rack of current releases.

Reading the film notes on the box for Scorsese’s latest blood bath, I sensed movement behind me. As I had been the only customer in the room, curiosity turned me toward the counter. On the other side of a wall-of-videos display rack, I caught sight of the back of a man I saw rarely but recognized instantly.

Having just come into the store, he purposely handed a plastic bag to one of the two female sales clerks behind the counter. Being obscured by the maze of video boxes was a blessing, as this was a guy I had good reason to prefer to ignore. I returned my attention to the movie selections in front of me. When I heard the bells than meant the front door had opened, I glanced up in time to see the aforementioned customer leaving the store.

As I breathed more deeply of the improved air, a woman behind the counter laughed as she dumped out the contents of the last customer’s bag. With comic exaggeration she acted as if she was troubled by the mystery of what might tumble out.

“What’s tha-at?” said the other woman, backing away and sounding girlish.

My curiosity was aroused.

“Is that one ... is it wet?” asked the one holding the bag.

Naturally, I stepped closer. All I could see was regular black VHS video tape cassettes. Yet the two young women, who I knew only in that video rental context, were going to trouble to avoid touching what appeared to be ordinary stock of that very store.

As a spray bottle of Windex was produced, I wondered if their Halloween spirit had gone wrong? Then they brought me into their conspiracy with the sparkle of eye contact. Both busied themselves spraying and wiping off the tapes. It was reminiscent of conspiratorial children removing cooties from objects touched by a someone they don’t like.

Assuming there had to be something peculiar about the movies -- like maybe they were kinky flicks, or who knows what? -- I stepped even closer to see what the titles were. Without looking so hard that it would indicate anything more than a casual interest, I noticed a couple of titles.

Both were mainstream films; one a crisp black comedy I had recently seen. Playing along with their tongue-in-cheek tone I asked, “Do you have to wipe down all the tapes like that?”

They laughed, happy for my joining in.

Oh, no, they assured me their procedure was especially for the character who had just left the building. They shuddered. Suddenly, it was clear to me the two of them were just doing what bored service workers everywhere in the world do, to kill time. To amuse themselves, they were mocking a bad-vibes customer who they saw as deserving of ridicule.

Being in on their silly joke reminded me that the spontaneous sharing of unanticipated moments of levity -- contact! -- is truly one of life’s treasures.

My stride for the walk home had a jaunty bounce. Fresh air.

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