Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Better Man Than I'd Thought

There's a supermarket somewhere here in my extended area, and for some years now I've taken a rather dim view of the manager of that supermarket. I once saw him loudly berating one of his workers right out in the aisle, right in front of customers, barking "Now get to it, did you hear me? Do you understand me? Do you understand what I'm saying?"

If I'd had a sawed-off baseball bat with me, it would have been my highest moral duty, and my pleasure and joy, to whack and bludgeon this manager insensate, right there on the spot. (It didn't help that I already knew the worker, and I knew him to be a good and responsible fellow.) And I've heard second and third hand since that this manager is hard to get along with. In short, I've long since concluded that he's just a real jerk.

Then yesterday I was out shopping, and I happened to stop off for groceries. They must've been short-handed, because when I got to the checkout, which was clogged with customers, this manager opened another line, and he manned the cash register himself.

I noticed that the manager was friendly to the other customers and to me. Not friendly in that treacly, mawkish manner which has become so fashionable in this Candle-in-the-Wind, post-Princess-Diana world. But friendly in the brisk, small-town customer-service manner I remember from the world of thirty and forty years ago.

He ran my groceries over the scanner, and he punched keys for multiple quantities (two grapefruit here, four containers of yogurt there), as if he was playing Beethoven at the keyboard. He tied the plastic grocery bags crisply, like a Marine tidying his uniform to get ready for inspection. (And once I got home, I found he had packed the bags intelligently, none of the usual stuff of mousetraps or drain cleaner packed right next to the hamburger.) It was clear that in a quiet, understated way, this man took pride in his work, and he took pride in doing his work right. It wasn't exaggerated, and it was no act. It struck just the right note.

I'd have to say I came away with the impression that this supermarket manager was a better man than I'd thought. He may still be a jerk toward his workers, and if so there's no excuse— he'd still be thoroughly baseball-batworthy in my eyes. But I saw a side of him I hadn't seen before. A side which goes a long ways toward casting light on what drives the man. Sometimes the truth comes through in those subtle clues of word and deed. At the very least— even if he is a bad man— he's a more complex, tangled ball of yarn than I'd realized before.

Though like I say, there was something in the way he conducted himself, something that's hard to fake, which struck just the right note. Even if he's far from perfect, I suspect he is indeed a better man than I'd thought.


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