I just had a rather bizarre experience at my Trader Joe’s tonight.
It was near closing, and I was perusing the aisles in search of the items on my list. As I searched for bagged, baby spinach on the refrigerated aisle, a woman called out, “Excuse me….Excuse me”, moving closer to me as she spoke. I looked up, and she said, “I know I don’t even know you, but I was wondering if you could buy me and my daughter some food, anything, a sandwich, a bag of chips, anything would be good.” When I asked if she wanted something to cook or something ready-made, she said they were homeless and couldn’t cook anything.
When she said this, I felt extremely uncomfortable, which is weird, because the wunderhusband and I keep food and bottled water in our cars to give to the homeless we encounter while driving (you know, the people holding signs on the side of the road). Looking back, I see that I was uncomfortable because her appearance didn’t match the story she told me.
She didn’t appear to be homeless (as she later told me she was): she appeared to have showered that day, her hair was done neatly (short), and she wore a clean white t-shirt and navy knit shorts. She was also at least 20-30 lbs overweight, carried nothing with her, and I hadn’t seen anyone at all waiting outside, which called into question her story about having a daughter.
Anyway, I didn’t think coherently about ANY of this at that moment. I just stood there feeling uncomfortable and confused as to what I should do–her direct request to pick what she wanted is what threw me off. Still, it wouldn’t hurt me to buy her food, right? So, why not?
Here’s where I should’ve been very clear but wasn’t. I should’ve said, “I’m happy to buy you a sandwich. Why don’t you pick one out from this case?” Instead, I asked her what she wanted, and she started asking me what different things were, and not choosing anything. I got tired of waiting and felt even more like I was being scammed, so I said, “Catch up with me at the front of the store–I need to finish shopping”.
I finished picking up my items and looked around for her. She was nowhere to be found. I waited in line, paid for my items via debit card, got my receipt, and she walked up with a bag of potato chips and 2 small items from the refrigerated section (some sort of fried item).
“Oh, can you add these on?” I asked the cashier, preparing to pay cash for the items.
“Actually, this is a routine–she does this every night. She really shouldn’t be in the store” the cashier explained, looking none-to-pleased. “She’s already finished paying [referring to me] ,” he said to the woman, and she dropped the items on the counter and left the store, saying “Excuse me, honey” as she walked past me.
This cashier’s intervention made me just as uncomfortable as the woman approaching me! I felt like it was my decision to be guilt-tripped into buying this woman some food, and he took that decision away from me.
Still, I know that someone shouldn’t be soliciting people in his store, and he was being protective and helpful. I appreciate the thought behind it, but my own lack of decisiveness and the fact that I got jerked around by 2 different people because of that indecisiveness really bothers me.
When he said. “She’s already done”, why didn’t I intervene and say, “It’s OK. I’ll pay in cash. Go ahead and ring up those items”??
OR, when I felt extremely uncomfortable when the woman approached me, why didn’t I suggest that she ask the management for any free items they might have in the back, or suggest that she ask the “free sample” people to give her the extras, since it was closing time?
And WHY DIDN’T IT OCCUR TO ME TO ENGAGE THIS WOMAN IN CONVERSATION?? Why was I so uncomfortable and fearful around another human being who had virtually no ability to hurt me? I was in a well-lit, very populated store!
Anyway, my plan for next time (now that I’ve restocked the supply of Peanut Butter crackers in my car) is to say, “I’m happy to share some peanut butter crackers and bottled water with you,” and leave it at that.
It also bugs me that of all 20 people in the store, the potential/probable con artist zeroed in on me. That always used to happen, before I got married. No one bothers me when I’m out with Anthony, and I guessed I fooled myself into thinking that my demeanor has become tougher and less victim-like. ::sigh:: Something to learn from.
God, please give this flawed, dysfunctional soul the wisdom, discernment, and willingness to appropriately show your love and kindness to those I come in contact with.