April 7, 2012

So Shines a Good Deed in a Weary World

Annie and the infamous mitts

 The other night, my husband and I had a nice long dinner with a very old friend. You know, the kind of person that knows your life history--and still likes you. These are the people with whom you can share anything and feel comfortable. You can take latitudes that you could not take in other conversations; you can brag a little, tell too-long stories to a willing audience, and you can even talk about negative things, knowing that the receiver of the story will not judge you to be, well, negative. Big picture, that is.

After a little bragging and too-long story telling at dinner the other night with our friend, the conversation took a little negative turn. Everyone started sharing stories of bad customer service. The idea was even floated by some in the room that some younger people today may not be as competent at good customer service as people in days gone by.

For a moment, I briefly, vaguely, remembered my own parents telling these sorts of stories when I was a child. I wondered if judging the young was just part of the aging process.

The stories of rude service went on, each person trying to out-do the others with the next one. The final story, that seemed to crown all the others, was of a very young woman working at a local, very old, Portland bar. The story went that she stood alone behind the bar, texting and looking at her phone while customers waited on her alone to take their orders. The feeling the storyteller conveyed was that she was just too busy with personal things to be bothered with the people that were keeping the business open--thus keeping her job alive. And what about tips? Didn't she need some to pay that texting bill?

Everyone laughed. It was definitely painted as a ridiculous scene, outrageous and the likes of which maybe never to be witnessed again. 

When dinner, drinks, storytelling and catching up were spent, our little group dispersed, going our own ways.


The very next day was the book club meeting at the library for my 12-year-old daughter and me. She always read the monthly book, and I almost never did. But it was a fun activity and we had been doing it for several months. On that particular Tuesday night, I thought it would be fun to get dinner together to extend the evening.

When Annie, my daughter, was very young, we used to go to the local grocery/variety store to get lunch sometimes. They had a little deli there with some tables. She called this "taking a break," and eating there made her feel grown up, as she saw other adults--many of them store employees--eating their lunches in this little area. So we decided that we should "take a break" that Tuesday night before book club, just for fun.

As we approached the deli counter, we saw several people working behind the counter, many of whom I did not recognize. I thought that maybe they had hired some new people. They were mostly male and all of them young. Instantly, I thought of the customer service conversation from the previous night. Just for a moment, I wondered how these young, new boys would do with service. None of them had a cell phone. Check. I laughed to myself for a moment, then I moved to order.

A nice young man, tall and slight with dark hair and brown eyes, maybe just out of high school, said, "Can I help you?" He followed up his question by doing a good job getting our order. He was polite and sweet, even though I could tell he wasn't quite sure where everything was yet. He smiled apolegetically when he took a little too long finding the jo jo potatoes.

We all moved to the cash register so Annie and I could pay--he on his side of the counter, and we on ours. I had my giant knitting bag with me, which also contained my wallet. At the register, I fumbled around in the bag, which I had plopped unceremoniously onto the very small counter. It nearly took up the whole space. The young man smiled and quietly slid our order backwards to accomodate me.  I struggled to find my money, and had to quickly remove my fingerless mitts as they were getting in the way of my crazy digging. Now I was getting embarrassed. At least no one was behind us. I tossed my gloves into my bag and, with freer fingers, finally produced my cash.

We paid and I clumsily removed my big bag. I almost forgot the food. As we said "thank you," I laughed to myself, embarrassed, that I had been worried about the employees. In reality, I would probably be the butt of the lunchroom joke that night, labeled as the crazy older woman with a kid and one of those weird, huge bags of crap.

Annie and I found a table and started eating our dinner.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone approaching. It was the young man from the deli counter. He said, "Excuse me," I looked up, puzzled. "Did you lose this?"

He produced a single fingerless mitt. My favorite Malabrigo mitt. He had no idea how upset I would have been if it were lost. How I would fret over the money and time I had spent on it. It fit perfectly and I would have had to make a new pair, or at least another single mitt. What about the dye lot? Would a new yarn even match the old?

I was speechless. He had sought me out, just to give me a glove. For all he knew, we could have gone shopping elsewhere in the store. He could have assumed that we were long gone and just tossed it in the lost and found. And he didn't have to pay such close attention to what I was wearing--he was clearly focused on us. No self-absorption here.

I looked up at this boy. I reached out for the mitt. All I could say was "Oh! Thank you!" He just turned and left. I sat there, feeling humility. And a restoration of faith.

When the world seems weary, such a good deed really does shine. Yes, indeed.

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