Monday, December 12, 2005

folks just folks, i guess

so yesterday i'm back at the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. after grabbing some salmon to grill and a couple of veggies, i head for the shortest checkout line. i end up in back of a sista who's looking at the candy shelf evidently trying to decide whether she should go with the m&ms or the hershey chocolate bar. i grab a plastic separator, place it on the grocery belt, and drop my items there. it was then i noticed the older gentleman in front of the sista in front of me.

he looked to be in his late sixties, his skin pale and paper thin, the veins beneath them like dark green wiring webbed across his features. his stature was short and he wasn bent over just a little. hair the color of grey going on white was standing on end from the few places it existed on his head.

he barely registered in my mind, but then old people have a way of fading into the background unless they're falling to the ground in the throes of death.

it wasn't until the cashier started getting a little loud that i glanced over again to see what was happening.

"sir," the cashier stated, exasperation in her voice, "your card wasn't authorized. that's what i'm trying to explain to you."

he leaned over to the credit card/debit card keypad, squinted his eyes, and attempted to read the word 'declined' displayed on the screen.

"i don't understand," he whispered to himself, confusion causing him to crumple his face in thought, his card still in his hand.

"sir," the cashier said, starting slowly as she tried to get a grip on her patience, "this card was not authorized. do you have another one?"

"but that cannot be!" he exclaimed, waving his card in his hand as he continued, "i was told i had money on this card!"

at this point, the line was starting to back up. the woman standing behind me was bottle blond and petite. as she grabbed another plastic separator and stuck it behind my items, she huffed impatiently before placing her freshly packaged filet mignon on the belt. the shine on her professionally manicured fingers was dull in comparision to the blinging rings on her fingers.

"lord," i heard her mutter to herself, "i don't have time for this shit."

turning to seen how many people were behind me, i was shocked to see how long the line had become in such a short time. people had begun shuffling their feet impatiently and the disgruntled mumblings were getting louder. i turned back around to see the older gentleman at the front was anxiously trying to follow what the cashier was telling him.

"miss," he cut her off as she tried to explain yet again that his card had been declined, "i don't understand why it's not working. i have money on this card!"

he ran his card through the machine again. as he did so, the cashier walked him through the process just to make sure he did everything correctly.

"okay, now put in your pin number, sir."

after he punched in the digits, the cashier leaned over to view the display screen on the keypad. a few seconds later, she sighed and leaned back.

"sir, it was declined again."

the gentleman's face turned red with embarrassment. he opened his mouth to speak, but only formed a few sounds of disbelief, his eyes glazed with fear and befuddlement. i stood watching the scene before me, my heart constricting as i watched the old man standing there frantically trying to assess the situation. it was obvious he had no idea of what to do next.

as he stood there looking on the verge of tears, babbling incoherently about how he couldn't understand why his card was working, i again looked around, noticing how folks were getting more pissed at the delay. someone suggested rather loudly for the cashier to tell the old man to get out of the line so other folks could pay for their stuff. when i looked back to see who the suggestion came from, all i could see was a bunch of folks standing there in back of their buggies, more concerned with getting to where ever the fuck they had to get to than about the old guy having difficulty in the front. the cashier flagged down one of her co-workers and told her to go get the manager.

reigning in my escalating anger, i walked around the sista ahead of me and saw the total for his purchase on the keypad. reaching into my wallet, i pulled out my debit card and discretely waved it at the cashier. i mouthed for her to put it on my card. she leaned over, grabbed it, and ran the amount through. when the receipt printed, she handed it to the gentleman.

"okay sir, you're ready to go," the cashier stated to him. he looked at her like he didn't understand what she was telling him. the cashier tried again.

"sir," she started, this time her agitation plainly heard in her voice, "you're fine now. your food has been paid for. you can leave."

he looked around, tears gathering in his eyes as he did so. the cashier pointed to me.

"thank that lady there for paying for your purchases, sir."

he started gasping a little as he tried to figure out the words to say. as the manager came up to assist him, he whispered a thank you without making eye contact. then he turned to gather his things before turning to accept the assistance of the manager. they then headed over to the customer service desk.

with the situation resolved, i could hear everyone breathe a sigh of relief. the tension in the vacinity immediately dispersed. when it was time to ring up my items, no words were exchanged between the cashier and i other than the regular mundane things folk say to other folk while being rung up.

grabbing my bag, i looked back to see if the old gentleman was okay. part of me wanted to walk to him to make sure for myself. part of me was unsure if it was wise to make the episode more than it was. i decided to just leave.

as i drove home, i pondered how difficult it is to discern how much assistance to give folk without damaging their pride. it's especially challenging as a black woman because frankly, i'm not sure if a white person is all that willing to accept assistance from me. i keep remember the episode of the jeffersons when the white guy received help from george and the guy said he'd rather they had let him die. the race issue has a way of really complicating shit.

i just hope that when i'm that guy's age, someone will look out for me if i'm in a situation like that, not because i'm black, but because i'm a human being in need of help.