Failing On Line

A vintage picture of a well put together woman checking out here groceries. She has a great hat.

She was the worst ever at packing a grocery bag. She knew that eggs needed to go on the top, but would regularly misalign her tomatoes on unevenly shaped cans. Cans would shift, tomatoes would smash.

It goes back to that time–decades ago–at the cheaper grocery store. The one that didn’t take credit cards, that sold goods out of cardboard cases rather than from neatly stacked shelves, where you paid for bags and you packed your own.

Her stress began when she had to buy the bags. She didn’t know how many she needed. All she knew was she had a conveyor belt full of food. She guessed the number of bags she needed. She guessed wrong. How did her friends do this?

The baby was in the well of the shopping cart as she was trying to empty the full belt. He was a baby in that he wasn’t quite yet a kid, but he was mobile. She kept an eye on him while she shoved food in the paper bags as fast as she could. There were people behind her in her line. They would need her to be done. Soon. Very soon.

Ethel and Lucy desperately dealing with an accelerating chocolate candy assembly line.She felt like Lucy & Ethel wrapping chocolates as the conveyor belt moved faster and faster, and as they became increasing more desperate–hiding candy in their hats, secreting it away in their uniforms and eventually popping the evidence into their mouths. But this wasn’t a joke. Her consequences were real. And then there was the wail.

The baby had somehow wedged his big fat cheeks between the wires where the shopping cart seat meets the cart. The more he tried to extricate himself, the more he was stymied. And this held true for his mother, too. He was afraid. So was she.

She couldn’t collapse the seat into the cart without collapsing her son’s face. She had to figure out a way to wiggle his cheekbones attached to his big head from the grip of the cart. But the baby screamed as she was doing her work. She believed it was not just because it was uncomfortable, but also because it hurt.

So she’s holding up the entire busy line at the cheaper grocery store trying to liberate a being that she loved more than life itself. And she was not removing her groceries from the assembly line. The line that was moving, just behind her.

She wished to her soul that she had pliers to cut the cart to piles of metal shavings and take her sweet baby home. But she also had $160 of groceries on the line. And they weren’t bagged.

She attended to her baby as the passersby were looking at her like she was the most ignorant and the most neglectful and the worst mother in the city, and in the state, and in the country, and in the world, and, possibly, in the entire universe. Nobody stopped to see if they could help. Many threw their noses into the air as they looked down on her obvious incompetence.

She wasn’t sure how she extracted her love from the jaws of the shopping cart. But she held him close as his sobs subsided. Still there was no help.

Except.

Except.

Except for the checker. The one who was having her line held up by the madness. She stopped scanning packages and grabbed some brown paper bags. She expertly took the food on the belt and smartly packed the bags. Because that was what needed to be done. And her line was stalled. But she felt for the woman. She did the packing because she was helping. And god knew the woman with the baby needed help.

So that’s why the woman would never successfully pack a grocery bag. She just couldn’t do it. She seized up and stalled. Even when she had less than a bag full. Even when there was no hurry. Even if the store was empty. She was absolutely no good. No good at all.

Don’t expect her to pack. Her baby is a man now. But she won’t ever put her groceries in her bag. Not happening. She’s not certified on this equipment. And it hurts.

Bag O’ Ash

Three almost painfully earnest–think Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt–women greeted people alighting from Metro Center this morning. They were wearing big and friendly smiles.

They said “hello,” and then offered up ashes.

I looked again, sideways and not slowing down as to look like I might be a taker of their wares.

It was sunny and cold. All three women had dirt on their foreheads. I did a quick calendar calculation. Yesterday I was drinking whiskey. It was Fat Tuesday. So today would be Wednesday. Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. Today.

I spied a reusable grocery bag to the left of the lay providers of holy ashes. It was like one of those brightly colored plastic totes you could buy at Trader Joe’s with tropical flower colors if not actual outlines of flowers. Were the ashes in there? In that bag? How much did they carry with them? How did they transport them? And why were they so jovial? Is this a celebration of fasting and penitence?

I’m wondering if these cheery women took this task upon themselves? Were they assigned ash distribution for those on the go from their church?

Who did they think would be interested? People who forgot about getting their ashes? Those who couldn’t make it to church?

This is definitely not for Catholics. There wasn’t a street Mass. So maybe for other Christians who do Lent? Or for a casual Lenten observer? Or maybe Lent is #trending for fashionable religious and secular alike? Like ashes from H&M?

Frankly, it’s a weird kind of proselytizing. Usually disciples give out pamphlets not ashes. Maybe the ashes were old pamphlets that they were recycling.

Pope Francis described Lent as a good time “to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful.” In that spirit, I am going to stop judging the happy women with the ashes in their shopping bag peddling contrition with a side of penance

Amen.