I first noticed the woman in front of me at the bustling, rush-hour grocery store as a result of the way your attention is lulled back from its absence by an abnormal delay. It has been a curiously long time since I had moved and I became casually interested in the transaction taking place. The woman’s hair was tightly knotted. Her clothing composited a rather bleak compilation of drab navy’s. Though her face didn’t appear over fifty, her gums trembled and reminisced of their long-lost teeth.
She was in the process of locating more dollar bills to finish paying for her bag of pork rinds, a diet Pepsi, and some tissue. After a small instinctive movement indicating internal uncertainty as to the social acceptance of the move, she then abandoned any inhibition and reached down the front of her t-shirt, withdrawing a worn red wallet from her bra. With a bit of difficulty (her fine motor skills may have benefited from more block-playing as a child – I wonder whether she ever had the opportunity), she managed to pull two more dollar bills from the wallet. Placing them on the standard-issue tray between her and the cashier, she then replaced the wallet with one more almost-apologetic reach down her front and began the hunt for the odd change still required to satisfy the bill. After removing a cigarette box from her jean pocket to make accessible the change underneath, she muttered softly as she produced small fingerfuls of coins, hunting for the correct tender. The cashier, several patrons now in line behind me, and I all watched with varying degrees of interest as she meticulously counted out the change. Then all at once, it was over and she handed the money over to the clerk, who barely counted it before printing the receipt and sending her on her way with a hasty but respectful farewell.
Now it was my turn. Three squashes, a head of garlic, and a juvenile ginger root rolled across the scanner. “Butternut?” the young cashier confirmed, apparently unfamiliar. I answered affirmatively and she punched in the code.
“Are those good?” It was the tattooed man behind me in line. Large, with a weathered but approachable face. Facial hair. Eyes that hadn’t been stripped by life and circumstance of their pleasant friendliness. I answered that they were indeed good – one of my favorite things to make. “They are always handing those out at the homeless shelter, but I never take them. I’m scared I wouldn’t know what to do with it.” The cashier chimed in with her resemblant bewilderment. I evangelized my interested audience regarding the wonderment of squash as much as the remainder of my transaction would allow, then left the store smiling to myself. The thought that passed through my mind as I stepped out into the sunshine that I would need to write that whole episode down.
And that was the flavor of my St. Louis afternoon. Not to mention the entire program of solicitors who, when earlier in the day as I enjoyed lunch outside a small downtown sushi shop with a former coworker, felt compelled to request (and offer) all manner of helpful wares and transactions. These included, but were not limited to, everything from the saving grace of God in the form of a self-produced R&B cd (for just a small donation) to a ten-minute oration on the attractions that would soon be coming to the park next to the homeless shelter, delivered by a bright-eyed and brightly-dressed woman emitting the faintest scent of marijuana. I love this city.