I sinned yesterday. Hopefully, the reasons will be clear by the time I finish this blog entry. My sin was not some little nibble at that piece of tempting cheesecake or the kind that makes the world mourn from evilness, it was a sin against my personal code. Try as I might, I simply fail , although less regularly than in times past, to ignore the slights of snotty sales clerks. It makes me irritable when someone who has a job prefers to do it poorly and without joy. I had a wise friend, Ethel, who taught me the lesson of taking pride in all you do. Once many years ago we sat at Brookwood Mall’s food court and she stopped her interesting conversation, trust me that girl could converse with the lightness of a sprite and the depth of the darkest navy night, to say simply, “Look at that man wiping tables. He is doing it with as much pride as someone who make millions of dollars in a much more valued job.” Well, that bold utterance, stopped me cold and I turned to see the most elegant, older black man stooped over cleaning the dross of the former occupant of the table who was too lazy to put their trash in the garbage can located not seven feet away. I still hold that image in my mind. The strength he held was mesmerizing. He was proud. He had no idea two young Moms were watching him and one would be effected by his purposeful and graceful motions twenty-five years later. His example was the standard from which I judge others, unfairly.
When some people go out into the world they want to find the best deal, the best bargain, the lowest price point. When I shop, I want to see pride and satisfaction. You’ve heard it a thousand times, “It doesn’t matter what job you do, do it well.” I don’t care if I am at Wal-Mart or Sam’s or Saks, I want to see people who want to engage with the public and treat us as brethren, as someone who cares about you and you care about them. All too often nowadays, we see people fake it till they can make it. They fake it till that make it to closing time or worse they fake it will they can make the sale and run off to the next poor clodpole who is waiting for the sales clerk’s gracious assistance.
Well, my story of sin started two days ago. My son wanted to sell his Law School textbooks online. Of course, he asked me to do it since he was at his summer internship all day long and didn’t have time. I was more than happy to learn something new. Little did I know, signing up to sell a few used “like new” books would soon become the business that I never realized was in my future. After figuring out all the technical computer stuff and all the options to provide the smooth delivery of volumes of legal wisdom, I set out to the UPS store.
The Good Lord was looking kindly on me and placed the kindest, most cooperative understanding, 20something young man in my path. He was fabulous, complete with personality, charm, learning knowledge, and willingness to try. He was perfect for his position and any other he plans to pursue. His Momma ought to be very proud. Day one of my new online business was a success due in much measure to the efforts of this young man.
With Day One behind me, Day Two arrived and presented a twist that even the lovely lady on the Customer Service line of the Giant Online Bookseller couldn’t even imagine. Her experience was vast but she had never come across the problem I presented with a book about Mississippi Divorce. Come to find out, the author, who is a faculty member at the Law School my son attends wrote the book and only allows the school only to carry new copies at over $250 a pop, OUCH. The reason, I was unable to list it was because it did not have a ISBN number nor an EAN for that matter. So after calling the publisher and two Bayer aspirin, I secured the ISBN for the book and the bundle Material number for the CD and supplement and forms book. Anyone’s head spinning yet? I then reentered the entry on my online part of the Online Mega Book Store. All was well, and I learned plenty.
Arriving at the UPS store, my young savior from the day before saw me and ran to the correct box sizes I needed and returned to help package and ring up my purchase. Life was good up until this point. Lo, I had forgotten my billfold, leaving it by the computer at home when I was securing my identification for the many blanks required to add an entry to my online inventory in the online business of my not so real dreams.
“No Problem, I know you,” said the you clerk when I was able to find my checkbook instead. I wrote my check for the entire total of $3.81…yes three dollars and eighty-one cents. Then the problem presented itself in the form of a large , grouchy old bully. (Not me folks, but the other clerk who had bitter burgers for lunch and decided that he needed to let everyone in the room know he was important.) The Old Fuming Fart, said, “She needs to have a picture ID.” I said, “Oh, give me a few minutes, I just live a short distance away and I will go get my billfold and return.” “No, can’t take a check without photo ID”was his response to that suggestion plus he threw in a smart a$$ sneer for good measure like I was some check-kiting-meth fiend. My self-respect was being challenged. He then persisted to belittle women as “difficult and whining” and that was the exact point I paused to compose my verbal-low-volume fit. Call me simpering but “whining” is gonna require some action.
My first blow was , “Are you the owner?”
“No,” he replied.
My frosty reply, “That’s what I figured.”
I turned to the young angel of a clerk and said I’d be right back. He timidly smiled and nodded in acceptance.
Less than fifteen minutes later, with billfold in hand and a cell phone call made to the owner whose card the young clerk slipped me silently, I faced Ole’ Fumie again. Calmed and waiting for the owner to return my call, I felt comforted and not intimidated. Fumie approached me to offer help as if nothing had transpired. He had gotten what he wanted from me. He had made me angry and he had made me leave and return. He was fresh with the raging hormones of I have power and I have inconvenienced and embarrassed you, now what can I do for you. I said nothing and handed over a fresh crisp $100 bill which I had grabbed from my emergency money hiding place knowing that Ole Fume Farter would have to try to pull out $96.82 cents as change from a cash drawer that had mostly debit card receipts. It didn’t surprise me in the least when he had to raid the “leave a penny tray” and the coffee cup tips to cover the amount. Hiding my silent smile was hard as heck. Then the Old Poot had to one up me and preached to me on the goodness of rules. I was in no mood for a sermon and instead responded with a phrase of words that in all my years has never even assembled in the my brain. All the stops between the synapses from my brain to my mouth were missing and my sin occurred.
There was no time to say the devil tempted me, there was no time to blame anyone, it was all on me, when I said my words I today call “my sin.” With a fast procession of phrasing for the first part before the crescendo , my words flowed, ” Look at yourself. Look at how you are acting. I don’t even have to try, and I have a better life than you do. ” On one level, I made the comment with intention and on another level I really had meant for the words to be “I don’t even have to try, and I am nicer than you.” However, it was done and it was said. His laughter was haughty. He still didn’t get it. What in the world made me think that this man would respect me as a person much less a woman, if I stood up to him? He’d already shown me what kind of person he was and I had walked away. This time I didn’t walk away. I continued to say, “You may talk to your wife, or daughter or grandchildren ‘that way’ but you are not going to talk to me ‘that’ way.” He said , “I was following the rules. “That’s what my boss pays me to do.” I retorted,”He pays you to think. Being nice to customers is why he hired you. Show some pride, man, show some pride.” The touch images, in my mind, of the Old Man wiping tables and my friend Ethel comforted me.
Today, I realize, I was wrong. I brought this all about myself by being careless and forgetting my billfold. It was not my place to instruct this man who is years older than I am. I am not his Mom or Wife. However, I should care how ugly he was to women. I do care how he tried to intimidate and embarrass me. I’ve seen my Mom face those types of men all my life. The old man was from a generation where his power came from making women feel intimidated and manipulated.
And now the good part of my sinning ways.
The redemption moment, the best part of this story, I met the owner. He came in and spoke to me. I told him of the situation, and how I had visited that store since the early 90’s. I told of my desire to try and shop at neighborhood stores. He smiled and said, “I have owned this store for five weeks. I bought it from a man who owned it for 26 years. This is my fault because the other owner got burned one time by a bad check and he refused to take checks. I thought that was unreasonable. I told my employees that it was ok to take checks but to get ID. I didn’t know that they would interpret my words to mean to be inflexible over something as small as $3.18 cents. I thought they would think and be reasonable. I really want to thank you for telling me what happened. Will you forgive us?” To which I said, ” Will you forgive me?”
Now, there was a man who takes pride in his job.
I need to work harder trying to ignore the slights of others, whether given to me or anyone else. I have to realize I am not the teacher or preacher of the world. Everyday, people say mean stuff to each other. Everyday, we all point out the “other” sinners. Today, I point to myself. I am a sinner. I sinned and broke my personal code to be the greatest person I can be everyday.
Who else is ready to say they are a sinner and tell their story? We might all learn something.