"How are you doing today?”
“I’m good, thanks. How about you?”
“I’m good too, thank you.”
It’s a simple enough exchange, if somewhat moribund, and I’ve had it with thousands, possibly millions, of Americans in the service industry since moving to this country. But the other day at a Safeway in the aesthetically deprived exurbs of Maryland I stumbled across a new variation. The young girl scanning my bar of chocolate, a bunch of bananas and an energy drink (pre-match meal for over-35 year olds), looked like she was getting ready for Halloween a couple of weeks early. She had purple streaks in her long brown hair and a strange expression on her face. I thought it might be a scarily seasonal in-store promotion the cashiers had been reluctantly dragged into by the misguided goons of marketing and management.
She: How are you today?
Me: I’m good, thanks. How about you?
She (sighing): You know, not so good. I had a terrible night.
She: Yes. I made the mistake of spending it in an abandoned house.
Me: (not making a sound, just standing with my mouth slightly open, waiting for a further explanation)
She: I didn’t fancy going home. So a friend and I ended up in this abandoned house. Big mistake. It was kind of scary.
I felt at this point as though I should say, “Yes, I know what you mean. Every time I’ve spent the night in an abandoned house, I’ve ended up thinking it was a big mistake too.” But as far as I can remember, I’ve never spent the night in an abandoned house, unless you count sleeping on the concrete floor of a bothy while on a Scottish mountain-hiking ‘holiday’. But given that the alternative was putting up a porous tent in a rainstorm in the dark and being trampled by several thousand sheep, the abandoned house option won the night.
I didn’t have the time to tell the girl in Safeway all this. I had my things in their bag, and kick-off was just an hour away. I needed energy and protein. Even though the next customer had her items on the conveyor belt, the girl was looking at me as though she wanted to tell me more. Much more. As though I was the only customer all day who had listened. But all purveyors of oral fiction know that when you’re staffing the ‘15 items or less’ checkout, the only tales to be told are short ones.
“You have a good day now,” I said as I walked away. What a disappointing ending.