During my sophomore year of college I took online classes and worked my first real job at the deli counter in Fred Meyer. We had many regular customers but none I remember better than Wanita.
A woman of silver in her early 80’s, Wanita maneuvered the store in a motorized cart, cane stashed in her basket. If I had ever seen her walk, I imagine it would have been a slow lumbering assisted limp.
She visited us daily, descending from the north side of the store, rapping her cane along the 30 foot glass case until rounding the corner to the self serve coffee dispensers. She’d peek her eyes over the side countertop, yelling “Hello! Hey! You!” repeatedly until someone came to help her. Even if we were with other customers. Even if there was a long line of people ahead of her.
Wanita couldn’t reach the coffee from her cart. She also, apparently, needed help adding the correct amount of sugars and creams. While assisting her, Wanita would complain about your poor technique or whatever else was bothering her that day, then tell you about the time she had a heart attack.
“And I was dead on the table” smacking her hands together in a loud crack “for one minute! One minute!!” She paused, eagerly absorbing your reaction before continuing “and the doctor told my husband to get my affairs in order. That I wouldn’t last another week. Can you believe that? We had his head for that one. Got him right out disbarred.”
Most of my co-workers hated her. The worst was Fran. Fran was openly rude to Wanita, telling her to lay off on all the sugars if her heart was in such bad condition. Fran was a lesson-teacher. She was about 10 years Wanita’s junior, someone who should have been enjoying her retirement but was instead slicing meat and cheese and serving fried chicken for ten dollars an hour. She was no respecter of persons. After openly stealing a cup of coffee every day for fifteen years, the undercover loss prevention guys finally staged a sting and one day Fran was gone, fired and escorted off the premises. When we asked our manager about it she responded “Oh I told her years ago not to do that but she just ignored me.” I was at a loss.
I quickly became Wanita’s favorite. When she’d come around the other four deli workers would roll their eyes, pretend to need something in the freezer, or look at me expectantly knowing she’d request me anyway.
Once she realized it never occurred to me to be rude she became downright angelic. She still used complaints as her only form of conversation but they were directed at the weather or my co-workers or anyone else rather than myself. She was particularly upset if I wasn’t there the day before to get her coffee.
I’m not really sure why she didn’t get to me. She was certainly abrasive enough. Maybe it was just easier to be nice to her. Maybe I was afraid of getting fired. Or maybe I just liked hearing her story.
“For two minutes! Two, whole minutes I was flat lined, dead as a door nail! Yet here I am today, living and breathing. We sued that damned doctor for every penny he had and we got it! You bet we did!”
Over time when I caught a glimpse of her and her husband entering the store I would smile a little on the inside. OH yes, her husband was there too. Why he didn’t come and make her coffee himself I’ll never know. He was probably instructed not to.
“He never worked again, no he didn’t! We ran him right out of town too! He told my husband that I was a goner, that he should buy a burial plot and plan the services! Five minutes I was dead!”
It was this point in my life that I realized people are so incredibly interesting, the most organically and naturally gifted at being unique. It’s impossible for us not to be. We all have a story, a background, a depth—even if it is a little embellished. There is nothing about us that is boring, even if it feels like it.
I think that is why blogging and my current day job are so appealing to me. I hear the perspective and stories of people with totally different backgrounds from myself, people that I might not have ever befriended out in the real world because we just didn’t realize we had anything in common.
People just rock. It’s as simple as that. Even the weird and rude ones.