I had one of those notices from the IRS saying they wanted something. It doesn’t take AP Chemistry to know you respond to those letters. I wasn’t home when the super serious ‘you must respond or else we will take your kidney and leave you in a bath tub filled with ice’ letter arrived so I stopped at the post office to pick it up.
Stopping at the post office is not something anyone wants to do. It feels archaic, sort of sweet but mostly time consuming. Sure, I enjoy watching the packages you have carefully wrapped in boxes and then more boxes and then mismatched tape. You can see well-worn love all over those deliveries going from here to there.
Wherever your there is.
It could have been quaint. Well, it was quaint until the man next in line lost his last marble. It wasn’t pretty. There was one postal worker at the counter. She had to be 87 thousand years old and seemed very polite. I don’t think there’s much to get riled up about at 87. She noticed a couple of us in line picking up certified letters and asked if she could grab them all at once.
(Well I don’t mind if you do.)
The guy next in line flipped. He looked at everyone else in line and yelled, “Does she not see me? I’ve been standing here for ten minutes and she skips to you? What do we pay these people for? I need stamps and they get to go ahead of me?” It would have been fine if he ranted and finished but it continued. He had this smoldering ‘I might come back and shoot this place up’ sort of look about him. He growled under his breath. He shook his head but not in the to-yourself way. He shook it with force in the look-at-me way. Then he stomped his 50-something right foot.
An absolute tantrum. It was fabulous.
I looked at the other people and wondered why no one said anything to him to calm him down. There had to be about seven or eight of us in line. No one said anything. Maybe they were scared about his reaction. Maybe they thought he would lash out at them like he did at the postal worker. His shaking head and huffs continued and then I said, “You’re okay. No one is cutting in line in front of you. She’s just doing her job and we’re all getting served. No one is in front of you.”
It’s always the person that speaks up that gets shot first, huh? I pondered that even before opening my mouth. Did you know the emergency exit signs are not clearly marked in the post office?
We’re not in days, in moments, where discord leads to discussion and then reasoning together. Snips turn to snark which turns to deep sarcasm which turns to anger and outbursts. Did he feel invisible not just during that moment at the post office but invisible in life? Had someone ignored him to the point of despair? I wondered this as he walked to the exit, mailed his few letters with new angry stamps, got on his bike and snarled at me one last time.
And as I walked out, the lady behind me gently grabbed my arm and thanked me for saying something. Somebody has to say something, right? Just like somebody needs to stop when a person has a flat tire or when you’re the first person that sees the car accident or when a child is being bullied or when someone drinks the last of the milk.
Are you saying your somethings?
I made a quick road trip to Vegas this weekend. You know those times where you just need to clear your head and there’s no better way to do it than in a city drenched in cigarette smoke? I found a little oasis of calm in the Aria Hotel and Casino and picked up a couple tips along the way.
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I was sitting at my favorite diner with my favorite curly-haired eight-year-old answering questions about faith and pancakes. “How do you know when God is speaking to you? Does He sort of knock softly on your head with an idea?”
Pancakes are much easier to navigate. I know pancakes. I can see their buttery, maple goodness right in front of me. God is rather invisible and even more invisible to an eight year old.
We continued to eat our coffee shop breakfast. I asked Tatiana to close her eyes and listen. “What do you hear besides the background music? Do you hear anything else?” She mentioned clanging forks, plates picked up and put down, diner chatter, people walking by on their phones, kids crying in that very hungry pre-breakfast way and then she looked to the table across from us. There was a woman silently eating her breakfast for one. She had pancakes, too, and hash browns like Tatiana. I noticed they weren’t drenched in ketchup though. The woman would take a sip of her coffee then quietly reach for her folded tight napkin, wipe her mouth and then the edge of the cup to remove the little lipstick she wore.
Tatiana kept staring the way you’re not supposed to stare but do when you’re eight. And then I heard a knock softly on my head, well, and my heart. I asked the server to discreetly bring me the woman’s check. Without our knowing, the server knelt down to the woman and told her the table next had paid her bill.
Then the woman, nearly 90-year-old woman, was standing next to us. She had tears pouring down her face and into well-earned wrinkles.Still the folded napkin was tight in her hand. I wonder if she would tuck it in the band of her watch like my grandmother did. She thanked us and asked Tatiana her name then reached for my arm and said, “My husband died in September and I’ve been afraid to leave the house. This was my first time outside.”
I knew the knock on my head with an idea was for a reason. There are many times I could reach out and pay a bill for someone. We all could. Hell, I wouldn’t mind someone doing that for me one day. Still, this wasn’t about pity or a grand gesture. It was an idea, on a heart, birthed from the wondering mind of a little girl asking about pancakes and faith.
I held the woman’s arm and said, “You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. Don’t stay inside. Come out often and hopefully we’ll see you here again soon.”
The big gestures are good. They are big. They draw attention. They are needed. I’m wondering though if a small gesture, a $9.52 gesture, might matter just as much.
It was just an ordinary street on an ordinary day with an extraordinary moment. A distraught woman in her very heavy electric wheelchair was dangling half on and half off the curb of a major intersection. Surrounding her were five young men. If you saw them anywhere else you might jump to the conclusion that they were trouble makers.
In fact, they were heroes.
When hundreds of cars continued to pass by without a thought for this woman in need, they held up her and her wheelchair with care, love and grace. It seems the chair was too heavy to move and the woman was terrified if they tried that she would fall into the dangerous intersection, full of cars that didn’t care.
But there were heroes present.
I saw three grown, strong, strapping men drive away in construction trucks after looking at the woman and the five men. I called the fire department against the woman’s wishes. “I just need my husband! My husband knows what to do!” She continued to hold onto the traffic light metal post for dear life. You could see the strain in her very weary arm.
“She won’t let us call 911.” The young men held on to her, calming her and explaining why no one reached for their phone. The fire truck arrived just as her husband did. And with five young heroes and one loving husband, they raised her chair safely onto the sidewalk.
Many times it is the men and women in uniform that perform heroic, truly heroic acts. Occasionally though, it’s some young guys on their way home from school, backpacks in hand, thinking about love and sports and the weekend. Heroes don’t always have a uniform, do they?
If you look hard enough under that faded Raiders sweatshirt I’m certain there’s a cape.
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Don’t tell Magdy’s ex-wife that he just got married. She thinks he’s in another country. He’s not. He’s standing outside his convenience store wondering if the kids inside are going to steal or pay. That happens when you are a small business owner. Suddenly you become sales, accountant and security.
Not that you asked but those kids look super guilty to me.
It wasn’t that Magdy wanted to lie but it was the only way he could get his ex to sign very worn divorce papers that had been waiting for someone to do something for years. Love does that sometimes. It either freezes us in inaction or makes us say we fled to Turkey.
Fled to Turkey. If I had a dollar for every…
He had to push his ex to sign the papers because there was a rather insistent (read: young) fiancé that wanted to be more than a fiancé. She wanted to be Magdy’s wife. So, he went to his ex and firmly said the papers need to be signed because, “don’t think I’m going to fly back from Turkey and do them later!”
Magdy has been waiting for love. We used to sit outside his tiny convenience store late in the evening. You know the time of night when all the people are inside the movie and the only ones walking around are mall employees? I like that time. Magdy would find a table close to his store to keep an eye out for that one late night customer needing mints before a big kiss. He would pull out a chair for me and then rush inside to get a bottle of Pepsi for him and a can of Diet Coke for me. We would not talk about the store tonight, or his dreams to open a much larger location. Instead, he had love on the mind. It seems there was one woman that took his breath away. He would talk about her and get that far off look then turning to me say, “You know, I drive and imagine her in the seat next to me and still talk to her.”
That’s love. I don’t know if he was talking about his ex-wife or some woman at some moment in some time of his life. I do hope that this new rather young (read: nineteen year old) bride is someone that sits in a seat next to dear Magdy and wants nothing more than to talk to him.
Magdy just moved into his new location. He asked me what items he should stock and all I could come up with was Hershey’s Kisses and Diet Coke. I mean, what else does a person really need? He keeps those ready for me each time I stop by. Neither of us tells anyone that I pay, tuck them into my purse and sneak off to the movie with my contraband.
If Magdy won’t tell on me then I certainly won’t tell his ex-wife about his new love. And God help anyone that tells her she’s nineteen.
He wears two watches. First he checks the time on the left watch, then checks the time on the thicker digital on his right hand. The right one is black, bulky rubber and held together by ancient, peeling tape.
I wear no watches. None on my left and none on my right. I’m kind of liking his idea of The Dual Watch. Talk about keeping on schedule. My iPhone alarm goes off 10 minutes before my next meeting which is always 43 minutes away without traffic. And there’s always traffic.
We’re both in line at Target. I have a small stack of pictures I just printed for a birthday party and Joe, his name is Joe, is staring at them.
“Wow! You mean you printed those here? Like on a printer? When I was in The Secret Special Forces (side note – that’s not a thing) I used to print pictures at home on a really big printer. Satellite images of secret stuff. (watch…there really is a Secret Special Forces and I’m now on the ‘watch her via satellite’ list) Yah, I printed at home but I’m here at Target because I need to return something. Do you have a return?”
He stops to take a breath and looks around at the other people waiting in line with us.
Smiling at him, “I don’t have a return. Just need to pay for my pictures.” I think it threw him that I was in the return line without at least a lamp.
As if not even hearing me he continues, “Yah, but I’m in line for my return. See I have my receipt but I need to print pictures like you. Maybe I should take their machine and put it in my car. (maybe not) Well, I need to go to church and return things and print pictures.”
Then he stopped, looked around again and said with great frustration, “I just don’t know what to do.”
I just don’t know what to do.
Such a huge sentence full of questions, concerns and chaos. I’m fairly certain Joe didn’t have a thing to return as there was nothing in his hand but a crumpled up receipt. Perhaps he wanted to find himself in a place like Target with people, noise, loudspeakers and too many red shirts.
I wonder why we go to the loudest place when our mind craves silence.
Are you experiencing an ‘I just don’t know what to do’ moment? Are all the choices and decisions overwhelming you like Joe was overwhelmed? Are you standing in a line holding a receipt that is supposed to match a return but you forgot the return? Maybe you feel like you need to get to church or steal a rather cumbersome Kodak photo printer.
They call me to the register and I pull out my debit card to pay for my photos. I look back at Joe as he checks his watch on his left wrist then checks the black, bulky, rubber one all taped together on his right. He starts a new conversation with the person in line behind him.
I heard him mention the Secret Special Forces thing again. I wonder if it is a thing?
The furniture sales girl told me about her divorce yesterday. Well, I guess not the divorce but all the messy pieces on the front side and the back side of one. Did she fill you in as well? If not, the gist of it is:
“My ex is fighting me for custody and his new wife is really mean and only nice to her kids and not mine. And we had court the other day and his lawyer is really good and I don’t have $6K for a lawyer so I’m using one of those public people that defend you. (I’m going to take a shot at this and say Public Defender) But I missed the first court date and the judge granted him custody and then I set another one and I went to the wrong court so they dismissed the case. You’re buying furniture for your boyfriend’s daughter? That’s so sweet. My ex’s wife would never do that. She barely speaks to my kids. I really like your purse. I bet it was expensive. Okay, I’ll go place your order.”
I may have said three sentences in the middle of all that, two being, “You probably want to show up on time and at the right court when you want custody of your kids. Judges like that.”
I’m fairly certain just about anyone could have come up to this sweet young woman working at a furniture store and listened to the contents of her heart. Not everyone would. Not everyone does. We’re so consumed with shopping for furniture and checking our phones and looking for emails and answering things that could be answered in 20 minutes, not Right Now minutes.
Wait a second while I shop for furniture, check my phone, look for emails and answer things. I hate that about me.
I attended a family get together this past week and found myself face to face with many people I hadn’t seen in some time. All of the answers to my question of how are you were, “Oh, fine. The kids are growing up so much. Did you know so-and-so got a job and that so-and-so is trying to have a baby? And such and such and such.”
I don’t really need your bio. I can Google you. I do like the content of your heart and wish you would share that more with me. Are you well? Are you happy? Are you in love? Are you heartbroken? Are you in financial ruin? Did you just win the Lotto and all of your third cousins are coming out of the woodwork?
Are you going thru the custody battle of your life and just want to think about purses?
There’s a bravery to spilling your guts. And there’s a reward in having guts spilled in your ear.
Well, that doesn’t sound right. Stop and listen to someone today, won’t you?
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We sat down with some of your local OC baristas to find out what you do in line. Yikes. You all need some coffee. Oh, wait…
Don’t Be Rude. “Some people order their drink while on their cell phone. Sometimes I pick up the store phone and make them wait for me.”
Don’t Be High Maintenance. A ”triple shot of espresso halfway with soy, seven pumps of vanilla and, oh, leave room in the top for me to add sugar” or “one and a quarter Splenda, please” would be considered high maintenance.
Don’t Be Late. “It’s 5 minutes before closing. The place is spotless. Then you walk in wanting to order a Venti white mocha and a Samoa Frap. Just get coffee!”
Don’t Be Pushy. “There’s a line out the door and you walk to the side because you want your coffee topped off or a cup of (free) water. Stand in line like everyone else.”
Don’t Be Cheap. “Yah, she always drinks three-quarters of the drink and then brings it back to us saying we made it wrong so she can get a free one.”
Don’t Be Dismissive. “Every time you throw your money at me I want to throw it back at you.”
Don’t Be Lazy. “Why are you asking me to put the half-and-half and Splenda in your drink when there’s a shelf full of that stuff?”
Don’t Be Psychotic. “We had two germophobes always coming into the store. Every time we would sweep one of them would say they couldn’t breathe.”
Don’t Be Condescending. “They talk slow and loud like we’re idiots. I hate that.”
Don’t Be A Hypocrite. “I can’t stand those customers that complain about the long line but don’t know their order when they get to the counter.”
OC Barista? What would you print on a t-shirt if you could say anything you want to customers?
“Tip. Oh, and go away.”
We might need one more round of caffeine.
Have you made your list of 2012 resolutions yet? If you have then good on you. If you haven’t here are some ideas to get the think tank that is your brain flowing.
Less bumper sticker, more do. You know those cars with a million stickers proclaiming everything from World Peace to Obama ’08? They are adorable but I’m more the one cause sort of gal. What if you found one cause that makes your heart sing and give it everything you have? This year quit talking about saving the Bengal Tiger and do it. Roar.
Reach out and touch someone. Not like that. I’m talking about the phone. I know the concept of picking it up seems archaic in a world where ‘lol’ has replaced a belly laugh but I like hearing belly laughs. They are loud and verging on obnoxious and come from a deep, deep place of joy. A text cannot replace that laugh. Now if they’d bring the rotary dial phone back I could take over the world.
Look at a darn tree. This young man was holding his iPad in one hand and iPhone in the other. When I asked him what he used one for he answered, “To check email and go online.” And the other? “To check email and go online.” I sat watching him for a bit longer and walking away said, “Put those down and look at some trees.” Are you missing the trees?
Tip at Starbucks. You and I both know you go there every single day. The barista knows not only your drink and your name but your love life. It’s the 2012 version of Norm and Cheers. And Norm tipped. I’m sure he did. Pull that dollar out of your skinny jeans pocket and acknowledge the people that get your morning gears in motion. And remember many of these workers are engineers, MBA students, artists, single parents and, my favorite, Marines.
Mentor someone. You don’t need to write a big plan or make a huge fuss about it. I’m simply talking about sharing your talents rather than hoarding them. Grab a young colleague and take them to lunch. Find a student that is interested in your field and show them the ropes. Don’t be stingy with your gorgeous brain.
Give a little. Giving back to your community can be as easy as picking up the litter someone left behind. Or you could set up a donation to the Orange County Rescue Mission once a month. That auto debit won’t hurt your wallet one bit. Make it small. Make it consistent. Make it meaningful to you. If many of us gave a little, not a lot, it would be quite a bit. And quite a bit is quite good.
Grow your cultural muscle. You crave local indie bands, the symphony, theatre and art but it goes so far off the radar with all the other things we have to get done in a day. Calendar this into your, uh, calendar. At least one cultural or artistic monthly endeavor can be a very attainable goal. Think of all the brilliant conversation starters you’ll have at Paul Martin’s. I can hear you now.
Oh, and if none of these resolutions resonate with you, you might start with jumping in puddles. Or blowing big, fat, pink bubbles. Getting to know your neighbor. Seeing a movie all by yourself. Writing that letter you’re afraid to write. Making the call that terrifies you. Saying I love you even without the promise of it being said back. Taking the bus. Riding the Metro. (Public transportation in other counties is cool. I promise.) Talking to people you might normally ignore. Staying at a local hotel once a quarter to recharge. And my favorite, belly laughing in that very audible, telephone sort of way.
What are some of your 2012 resolutions? Share with me here. I promise I won’t tell anyone.
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She knew the gift wrap ladies were swamped. It’s Christmas. Your wrapped presents are going to take time to get back in your hands. And during December you deal with the delay like the rest of us by drinking, popping a Xanax or eating chocolate chip cookies.
Wiping the cookie crumbs from my mouth, I stood there in line, patiently. Really, I wasn’t in much of a hurry and was sort of watching the wrapper ladies scurry back and forth. They were scurrying. Trust me. “This gentleman needs two shirt boxes!” “On the way!” “This lady would like some extra tissue.” “It would be my pleasure. Happy Holidays!” The air was full of yes and not no.
Until it wasn’t. You should have seen her. She was dressed so cool that I didn’t want to like her. Her two perfect boys with their perfect hair were behaving, so, well, perfectly. This woman seemed to have it all together.
Until she didn’t. She made the mistake of doing that one thing you don’t do to scurrying gift wrappers that work in shades of black and white. She asked for the gray and it devastated them. See, she was in a hurry to get to an event that night and was taking this rather large Cuisinart as a gift. I told you she was cool.
Must get a Cuisinart to cuise things.
She sets the box on top of the counter and waits. And waits. And finally someone stops handing out gift boxes to help her. She asks very sweetly, “Would you have time to wrap this?”
“I’m sorry. Not til tomorrow.” Tomorrow doesn’t work very well when you have a party to go to and a gift to take and two little boys that do perfect very well but couldn’t possibly keep up the jig much longer.
“Well, then could I pay for the cost of wrapping style number um, maybe…five and perhaps you could give me the paper and the ribbon and I’ll do it myself?” You know how you raise your voice at the end of the question just a bit too much to keep things light and airy. Yes, like that.
“I’m sorry. We can’t.” Very black and white. Very not gray if not gray were a Pantone color. The customer looked to the rest of us in line dumbfounded. Someone else would have stamped their Orange County heels and yelled, “Get your manager now or I’m calling Bravo to come film this!” The sweet customer was not moving her Cuisinart and the head wrapper lady had a death grip on her grosgrain ribbon. It was a retail standoff.
Are you missing opportunities to say yes? Are you stuck in the black and white space of no because that’s all you know? I challenge you to look, to just peek, maybe even duck your head to the right a bit and see what’s outside the box. It might not be a Cuisinart to cuise things but it could be the gift of service wrapped in gorgeous shades of gray.
Here’s hoping your December is full of yes and not no. And if you happen to see that lady invite her to my next dinner party, won’t you? Maybe she gives out espresso machines, too.