I love friendly people. Friendly people who go out of their way to smile at the grocery store, friendly people who say, when you tell your kindergartner she can't buy Hi-C because it's full of sugar, "It's horrible what we're feeding kids these days!" and shake their head, in full agreement with your decision to go for the box that says 100% juice--I like people like that. Secretly I want to be one, to insert myself more into the airspace when I'm in public places, sidle up to the woman debating which brand of diapers to buy and say, "Isn't it nuts how much diapers cost these days?" because that's exactly what I'm thinking and probably what lots of parents are thinking. And the two of us diaper-shoppers would grimace together and then maybe smile and then go our separate ways, having connected with some other in the universe, even if the connection is on a minute scale.
Today at an Amish-run grocery store (aka Bent and Dent) in the country, my father and my children and I ran into a man on the juice aisle. He heartily approved my 100% juice selection and then held up his own bag of cookies apologetically and said to me, "I'm a produce man and I"m buying cookies!." I laughed and shook my head, thinking this man looked awfully familiar, which I then stated. Yes, he told me, we had met. He looked in my eyes and smiled. "I told you you had beautiful hair," he said.
And then it all came flooding back. I'd run into him this past summer at the same grocery store; he'd followed me around for ten minutes, trying to talk me into stopping by his produce stand in Iowa City in front of the Ace Hardware. He had corns and canteloupes, the best prices around. As I made my way to the parking lot with my full cart of groceries, he was just leaving in his truck. He stopped in the middle of the lane and rolled down his window. "I have to tell you," he confided, "You have beautiful hair."
"Thanks," I'd said, and shrugged and moved on, glad to have met another friendly human. But today, when he reminded me, I saw caution lights. I let my dad talk to the friendly produce guy--who kept him talking a full five minutes by the mixed nuts--while I scurried around the store hoping to avoid a conversation. The two kids were getting restless and I didn't want to get caught in another produce conversation.
My father was able to part ways with the produce man eventually and I ran into him again at the checkout where he was in line ahead of me. "Have a great day!" he'd enthused when he left. "See ya!" I'd smiled. A few minutes later, as I was paying for my groceries, the produce man, having come back into the store, materialized before me with a box of chocolate covered cordial cherries, the sort that taste like choclate covered cherry Ny-Quil. He stuck it in front of my nose. "Happy New Year!" he said. I said thanks, of course, and as he was walking away said the only other thing I could think of, patterned after his earlier confession about the cookies:
"The produce man is handing out chocolate!" He looked back and smiled.
My father, after our shopping trip, opined that the produce man was lacking in social skills, or at least had little regard for the shopping other customers needed to do. I wondered aloud if he was merely misunderstood, a friendly soul society had not crushed and pounded into an emotionally repressed man. On the other hand, the hair comment and the chocolate cherries seem to add up to a little more than that, leaving me with a nagging little feeling of distrust, and the sadness that some super-friendly people after something other than friendship.