I am employed at a local food co-operative that became a large store a year and a half ago. It is still staffed in part by working members paid with a discount. It is still furnished with jars and bins of grains, legumes and spices that workers and shoppers scoop into containers, and that spill and trail from the soles of our shoes as we zig zag from one end of store to the other, making a journey three times longer than the one we had in the old place. To pay for this building, we now have towers of boxed macaroni and cheese, gift-wrapped holiday cookies, candies, and candles leering in displays, and the schmaltzy voice of a paid staffer booming overhead reminding us that we were invaded by an army of turkeys which is now up for adoption in the meat department (of all places), in case we think turkey (of all things) would be a good thing to have for Thanksgiving. No doubt the shameless commercialism of holiday gifts offends many who questioned the store’s move from a funky warehouse; no doubt the open freezer-pit full of defeated turkeys is to the dismay of many vegan members who voted against our store selling meat in the first place.
On the day two days before thanksgiving, I worked from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Wellness Department. It so called because it is where things in the store other than food that can make you well reside. These include herbal, vitamin and mineral supplements that MAY HELP with (the Food and Drug Administration says we must not say “will cure”) physical problems. The Wellness Department also contains things that may heal emotions: hair dye, essential oil with aphrodisiacal qualities, soaps, incense and body sprays scented with frankincense and myrrh that may remind you of the love of God within the sanctity of your home if you anoint yourself with them there. I enjoy my job because, as what happens in church, people share their deepest or small-but-dear concerns with me there. Though I may only be able to answer their needs a little, their confidences make me feel privileged. In the moments in which I hear them, I feel like a priest, or like God. These are some customers and the items they selected on the day that was two days before Thanksgiving.
A very handsome young man, perhaps an actor, perhaps still in his twenties, in a chain-restaurant uniform spent at least twenty minutes soliciting three staffers’ advice and about hair-dye to cover a few strands of gray. At least one other staffer and I wanted to tell him he looked good the way he was, but did not.
A woman who just had her gall-bladder out was looking for something that would get rid of the air that had been pumped into her digestive tract.
More than several middle-aged women came in around 5:00 p.m. and tried on expensive makeup.
A tall, buff, middle-aged man in work-out clothes came in to discuss nattokinase and omega oils because he recently had a full body-scan and was told to be vigilant about arteriosclerosis. He purchased hemp oil after determining it would still be good after riding with him in a car to Rochester for the holiday and back.
(A frustrated woman on a cell phone accused me of trying to rush her (I was trying to do it politely–the store was full) and hung up on me after I invited her to come into the store because I couldn’t quickly explain over the phone what all the things are that rebuild cells and what each of them costs. This customer especially made me feel like a priest or like God.)
An older female member left her special order in a brown bag on the counter when the manager told her there were no further discounts available than what she had already been promised. (It will be there with her name on it whenever she returns.) She said to me before she left, “I want to thank you for all of your efforts,” and I told her, “You are welcome,” thinking, she and I have the same dark spot on one cheek, only hers is bigger– one day I will be her: perhaps poor, perhaps confused, and certainly annoying young people.
Several shoppers ran into people they knew and congratulated themselves and each other for not shopping on the day before Thanksgiving, but rather on the day before the day before it.
A woman, who I thought was about my age (forty-four), but who said she gets a senior discount, insisted on getting the purest possible frankincense oil to put “directly” on her body.
A woman wanted rosemary oil to bring to her mom to help her with her memory. We had to make sure the bottle she took complied with airline guidelines. She wanted to know if she should put it directly on the eighty-three year old woman. I took a tester and dabbed some on my wrist, and then, with her invitation, on her wrist, so she could feel its strength. “Not on mom,” she decided, “just waved under her nose.” We discussed a diffuser to dispel the oil throughout a bedroom, or adding olive oil for a massage.
Absent on the day two days before Thanksgiving in the Wellness Department were the requests for herbs to enhance male virility. Oddly enough, no one sought relief from anxiety or sleeplessness as someone usually does every hour. Only one person sought cough drops and only one person mentioned Lyme disease or digestive problems: issues I usually discuss several times a shift. It was as though certain kinds of personal pain were suspended by something, maybe a hope or gratitude for what the holiday may bring. It was as though on that day, certain parts of ourselves were sliced away from the bone and others were getting dressed up to make a pleasant feast of ourselves. Together, we strangers were sharing our anticipation for our guests to arrive.