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  • Kyle Brandon Lee

Grocery Store Cynicism

Self-reflection needs not a mirror, only a mirroring surface.

Out of habit, I try to avoid people in public places, especially if I’m alone. I don’t like talking to salespeople out of sense of offending them. I don’t like talking to people seeking charity donations because I don’t have much to give other than what I have for whatever goal I’m trying to achieve. Turning down Girl Scouts and their cookies or Boy Scouts and their ridiculously overpriced popcorn is still somehow heartbreaking. This could be my ever-present anxiety at play or a built up cynicism that people are actively lying to get what they want. I distinctly remember the man who stopped me in the popcorn aisle at the grocery store and asked for money because he was stuck in Texas on his way to Alabama. I neglected to ask him why he was fifteen miles away from the highway that went to Alabama, but I didn’t want the conversation or the answer. I wanted to be away.

So, it is eyes down occasionally glancing ahead. Phone at the ready to pretend to make pretend I am on a call. I hate that it has to be this way, but [insert city name here] has always had a panhandling problem. We have two types: one with legitimate concern and one that folds up their sign at two in the afternoon, walks a block, hops into their BMW and drives home with another day of work complete. One only makes things worse for the other.

So, the eyes are down.

This morning, I needed to make a quick run for some orange juice and I happened to look through the meat section, seeing if anything looked like it may have been on special. There was a man talking to an employee about the stickers the store used on the older product. I didn’t pay that close attention as I attributed it to somebody complaining to complain and I dared not catch an eye. The employee handled it better than I would have but the man who was talking wasn’t upset about anything. He was just talking.

Later in the self-checkout, a separate man found himself having issues with the kiosk and the overseer of the line was on the phone with a customer. Here comes sticker man from the kiosk nearby. He took it upon himself to assist the other guy out, commenting on the trickiness of the machine. More than that, he was being apologetic for interrupting. Interrupting what? The machine not working? Sticker man simply wanted to be a good Samaritan. I don’t know if I felt shame in that moment, but I did feel relieved that someone existed who just wanted to assist his fellow man. Being good for the sake of being good.

The moment felt strange as no more than ten minutes earlier, I stood in line at the customer service desk and overheard one young woman tell another “Excuse me, you don’t know me, but I just had to tell you that your hair is everything.” Cynical as I am, I’m also curious. Once my own business had been completed, I turned to see the everything: Half black, half a neon pink. It wasn’t my everything, but I respected it because it was a wonderful form of self-expression. I grew my hair out years ago and it turned out to be a confidence booster. Who is to say this young woman hadn’t colored hers for the same reason? In a cynical world, a little something can be everything.

I’m still going to be a cynic, especially after the events of this past week. Even so, it is a relief that there are some moments immune to pessimism and cynicism. There exist times of hope and relief. The question is, how can I help that? How can I build? How can I stop being a grocery store cynic?

Self-reflection needs not a mirror, only a mirroring surface.

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