Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How Cynicism Failed Me

If you head to our local Iowa City Walmart and find yourself in the express lane (with your twelve or fewer items), chances are you'll be serviced by a petite middle-aged woman with a rosy smile and voice.

"How are you today?" she'll ask sincerely.

You'll answer fine, and "how are you?" if you're in a pleasant mood.

"Did you find everything you were looking for?" she'll inquire.

Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. You figure it's not really worth outlinining the terrain you covered in the store, how you got to the photo center and it was closed, or how Walmart sells only one variety of cardstock. Whatever.

In case her questions haven't covered all the bases of customer courtesy, she will pause with the scanning of your items, sweep her arm to the side in a gesture of assistance and ask, "Is there anything that I personally can do for you today?"

You'll find this a bit much, and wonder if she is possibly mocking you, the customer, with this superfluous gesture toward servitude.

"No--no, I don't think so. Thanks," you'll say, puzzled.

We don't frequent Wal-Mart all that much these days, but all I have to say to Mark is, "you know that lady in the express lane?" and he rolls his eyes and says yeah he does. We've both been doing a lot of internal eye rolling I guess, when it comes to this woman: We don't understand why anyone would try to serve us like that, and we, therefore, label her suspect.

Last night, I took the conversation with the woman further than I ever do.

"So is this like, your lane?" I ask

"Well, sort of...people think that because I'm the last one here."

"Oh yeah? How late do you work?"

"Twelve-thirty--that's when the other shift comes in."

"Wow," I say, thinking that I'd have trouble staying up that late. "So what time do you come in?"

"Seven a.m."

"Seven a.m. Are you kidding?!"

"Nope." She's bagging my printer paper now.

I'm speechless. Numbers are figuring in my head. Seven a.m. to twelve-thirty a.m. That's 17.5 hours. Take out half an hour for a lunch and half an hour for two fifteen-minute breaks--that's a 16.5 hour workday. The bags I noticed under her eyes make sense.

"But," she says, "I don't do this every day."

I am relieved. "How many days do you do it?"


Four 16.5 hour work days is a 66 hour work-week. I"ve never worked for pay that many hours per week in my life. Not to mention that at 9:30 at night, when I encounter her, she's been standing on her feet for at least 13 hours.

I just don't get why or how someone could be that nice when they're physically demanded of in that way, with shit for pay. I doubt anyone who doesn't need to be making an income would work those hours.

I go home and, after the eye rolling, report the conversation to Mark. "Doesn't that change things for you?" I prod. "Yeah," he says. It completely does. Instead of our annoyance at what we suspected was a mockery of customer service, we are dumbfounded by her efforts.

And now, staying true to my blog's mission, I have to ask what this has to do with marriage, parenthood, or organized religion. The best I can do is cite this scripture, which flitted about in my mind as I drove home.

But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise.
He has chosen what the world calls weak to shame what is strong.
1 Corinthians 1:27 (New Life Version)
My sensibilities about the world--my cynical, street-smarts brand of truth--is shamed.

No comments: