Spilled Guts In Aisle 5

I had an interesting conversation last night. A relatively deep, caring dialogue with the produce guy at Hornbacher’s.

He’s a real peach.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

But, seriously let me first explain where this is stemming from (whoops! There I go again.)

I’ve been struggling with small talk. Not making it or engaging in it. Mainly just the fact that I hate it.

“How are you?”
“Sure is windy.”
Or, in produce man’s case, “Finding everything okay?”

“Sure am! Thanks.”

Barf. We’ve got more than that, don’t we? We aren’t robots yet, right?

I’ve been voicing concerns on the issue to my sister, who thinks it’s ridiculous that I’m bothered that nobody talks to each other. I mean, really talk. Mind you, I’m a self-proclaimed introvert (I test an extrovert), yet I’m bothered every day by the dumbfounded looks after offering words to a stranger.

“Nice hat!”
(Blank Stare).
(Awkward pause.)

Allllllrighty then. Bury yourself in your phone. Look at your feet. Stare at me until I look at you, and then look away. Isn’t our normal routine kind of… abnormal? A comment to a nearby stranger shouldn’t catch them so off guard.

Same goes for people you actually know. Don’t you just want to “trim the fat” on conversations? Skim it, skip it and get to the stuff that matters. Like, how do you really feel, because we all know “good” is the B.S. auto-answer. Is it really that great to see me, and why? And, hey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you, and I don’t really know how to say it, but here’s my best shot.

Which brings me to last night’s conversation. I’d had a helluva week and the last thing I wanted to do on Friday was stay late at work, which I did. The next to last thing I wanted to do was the pain-in-the-butt chore called getting gas, which I also did. I really didn’t want to get groceries, so I got that over with too.

Big Friday night, here.

I grabbed my cart and started (quickly) maneuvering through the store, strategizing how I could get this done as fast as possible. That’s when I saw produce man. Head down, stacking fruit, hard at work in the middle of everyone’s grocery-getting, me!me!me!me!me! shuffle.

I had encountered this 60-something man about a year ago after noticing the organization of the oranges. I should have taken a picture. It looked like Mr. Hornbacher had contracted an architect who subcontracted a brick layer to be sure the orange display was a 10.

It was perfect.

Anyway, turns out this man was responsible, so back then I told him his work made my all-too-frequent trips to the store a pleasantry. (Have I mentioned I’m kind of a grandma?)

We’ve had a few run-ins since. One in particular was an evening last summer. The man was walking home from his shift and got stopped by my dog.

We talked. He seemed tired. I was too. Unlike other similar conversations of this sort, I asked his name with the intention of actually remembering it.


Easy. I have an uncle named Jim.

So when I saw him in the grocery store last night, I debated whether it was worth saying hi. He looked busy and probably didn’t remember me. But, what the hell, I was walking right by, and while my outrageously flashy night was on the verge of capping out, there was still room for a little more pizzazz.

I double checked his name tag and called out over the avocados, “Hey Jim!”

It was clear he was happy to see me.

“Hey!” he said, pointing at me. “Ah, how are you doing… (pause), Laura right?”

Huh. He remembered my name, too.

“I’m alright,” I responded with a smile.

He shook his head, like a father would, crossed his arms and said, “Eh… What’s going on?”


So I opened up about a few of life’s current stresses and joys. He was definitely engaged, offering advice, again, like a parent would, listening to me, encouraging me, happy for me. Then it was his turn.

It didn’t take much prying and he was revealing how much he disliked this time of year. The darkness. The cold, and, sadly, the people. Specifically the abundance of grumpy people (yes, even in our “North Dakota Nice” little corner of the world). He shared stories of folks fighting over parking spots, ungratefully rude customers (my words, not his), and people who let the stress of the holiday season get to them. And then pass it on.

“Thank God for you,” he said, with a look that said it all. I had made his day. “You and your bright smile. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t see that all day.”

Oof. That’s some harsh reality.

He shared his winter travel plans. I tried to encourage him and he did the same for me. Finally, we agreed to have a beer on my deck this summer when I catch him walking by again. A few jokes about spring and summer being “right around the corner,” (it’s not even officially winter yet) and we were on with our nights.

But the conversation rang in my ears the rest of the evening. I’m not a terrible person, but to think that I’m a shining light in our community is alarming.

To me, joy isn’t about putting coins in a bucket out of guilt. It’s not about shopping to show someone you care, or hosting a Martha Stewart-approved Christmas. It’s about reaching out a hand, encouraging someone, even if you don’t know them. Pointing something out that’s funny just to get a smile and spread some cheer. Making even the smallest attempt to be a bright spot in someone else’s day.

I wanted to share the story in hopes that readers would think about this as they’re out and about this holiday season.

But it shouldn’t just be seasonal. It should be a year-long attempt to squeeze out as many corny jokes as possible. That being said, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a New Year that overflows with aisle 5 interactions.

See? Orange you glad…

Alright, I’ll stop.

Shootin’ the Wit is a sporadic blog about everyday life that should never, ever be taken too seriously.

1 Response

  1. Jim

    Good Morning Laura,
    Very flattering. Thank you for the accolades.
    However! Allow me the latitude to dissect your commentary. I do vividly recall that evening and what subsequently transpired. Not knowing (how could I ) the week you had you reached inside to say hi to me ( to my surprise and shock ). You went beyond, in a time of some personal, private stresses, to reach out in a genuine gesture to a relative stranger and probably without knowing made the day a success. You didn’t have to do that. But in so doing you revealed a part of your inner self; a sensitivity for others, caring and empathy in a humane sense for the condition of another, and courage to put yourself out there for the benefit of someone else.
    Really, who cares about a guy stocking produce? Are you out of your mind? You are not! What you have is an aura of decency, intelligence, a deep reservoir of sensitivity, a anticipation for the best for others as well as for yourself, and a beauty encompassing the possibilities of life. Not just the external beauty ( though that is undeniable ) but the inner beauty you project.
    So, thank you again for being you, for the beer and for letting me harass Heinz.

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