Intersections – Conversations on aisle threeNicki Salcedo
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
When I walk up to automatic doors, they almost never open. I’ve got to do a little shuffle to the left and then shuffle to the right. I place my hands on the invisible plane in front of my face, like a mime, before the barriers part. Moses wouldn’t have had this kind of problem. Neither would a Jedi.
If I use the self-checkout at the grocery store, it’s the same issue. Technology likes to ignore me. I swipe my cereal box to the left. I scan it to the right. Nothing. I hold the barcode in front of the machine and jiggle it around. Still nothing. My 5 year old walks up, scans the box, scans my shoppers reward card, swipes my credit card, and looks back at me like, “It really isn’t that hard, Mommy.” Whatever. She’s closer to the ground. I don’t mind being invisible.
Doors and scanners ignore me. I’m almost impossible to catch on security cameras. I can’t remember if it’s because I’m part vampire or if it’s because I’m from the future. I’ve got my own special powers when I’m out in public. I’m not always unnoticed. People see me, and people like to talk to me.
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Want to ask me about “50 Shades of Grey?” Let’s do this in the grocery store. Getting a divorce? Meet me at the farmers market and specifically near the Japanese eggplant. Did your quit your job? Find me when I’m at the pharmacy. There’s also the Post Office and the coffee shop. Everywhere I go, strangers talk to me. Don’t get me wrong. I like to say, “Hello.” I’m Southern. Eye contact, head nod, “Hello,” and if you are feeling fancy throw in a “How are you?” It should end there. Keep moving. Not my luck.
I was standing in the (wait for it) feminine hygiene aisle at the grocery store when a nice young male employee approached me.
Kroger employee: “Are you finding everything, ok?”
Me: “Yes. I think so.” I look panicked into my cart to see if I had already placed any feminine hygiene products there.
Him: “Where are you from?” I tell him Georgia, but he continues to look at me. Really look at me.
I add: “Jamaica. Where are you from?”
Him: “India. I’ve been here five months. Are you married?” He’s 20 years old.
Me: “I am. Are you looking for a wife?” I’m always MILFy.
Him: “Yes!” Ginormous smile on his face.
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Me: Hysterical laughter. He takes no offense. “You’ll find one.”
My last INS marriage proposal was from a guy from Italy. I’ve still got it. It’s pretty easy to find out about the rest of a man’s life after he’s sort of asked you to marry him in the tampon aisle of Kroger.
I’m often in strange cities for work. I love being with taxi drivers more than any other people in the world. Rarely is the driver silent. They only have a 30-minute drive to make real connections with people. I used to want to write down the stories I heard, but I don’t. It seems like stealing, so I let their stories wash over me and my memories. I’m usually exhausted and fragile at the end and beginning of trips, so I like to listen. I’m glad people find a way to tell me their stories.
One day, I was chatting with one of the police officers that serves as a resource to the schools.
“Do people ever come up to you and start talking to you like they know you?” he asked. “You have that kind of face.”
I admitted it happened all the time, and he laughed. “It’s like being a cop. People come up to you and start talking mid-sentence like they already know you.”
It occurred to me that knowing someone is a great thing. I don’t have to be an extrovert to be a good listener. Maybe that’s why these people find me.
I took my car for repairs, and the receptionist ran in frantically. When I asked what had happened, she said that her dog was dying, and she’d been up most of the night. She told me a quiet story, through held back tears.
When I picked up my car later, the shop hadn’t charged me for labor. I was confused.
“It was because you listened,” the receptionist said. That’s when my heart started breaking. Is listening so rare that she had to treat it like a gift? Maybe that’s the writer in me, but shouldn’t we always be listening? Waiting for stories?
Here’s the thing. When these conversations happen on aisle three, I say nothing. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I nod. Automatic doors won’t open for me, but people do. I don’t always like it. I don’t always know why. They say that there’s something in my face.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.