Portrait of Some Silly, Old Man

It was a sad, if not proud moment.

I was going to my little Publix, my trusty grocery cart in tow. We call him Rolly. I’m on foot and Publix is a 20 minute walk. Yes, it would be easier for me to take the bus right outside my front door and be dropped off right in front of the other Publix at Lake Eola. But, this is my Publix. I’ve written about it often on this blog.

So, I find it rather ironic that this will be my last entry about that once beloved Publix I used to call home.

I had the nicest walk there, my little grocery cart rattling behind me. It does draw looks from joggers and walkers. Some of weird fascination. I either look like a homeless man carrying everything he owns in a shopping cart behind him or, I look like a very practical minded person who is on foot, out to get some exercise, fresh air, and groceries.

I said good morning to all the usual faces, grabbed my list, grabbed my groceries and headed for the check out. The bagger, the checker and I, are all bantering about something funny when my debit card was declined. We try again.

Nothing. Well, damn….

Not to hold up the line, we put my things to the side while I go to the ATM to make sure my little money is still there. Yes, there it is. Obviously, my card isn’t working so I’m going to have to call the number on the back to figure out what the problem is so I can pay for my groceries.

I don’t have a phone. It doesn’t make sense for me to have a phone. I think the only people I talk to on the phone are my mother and whatever utility company I have to call. That’s it. No need for a phone.

I go back inside and find a gaggle of managers around a cramped little office and uttered, “Excuse me, but do you have a house phone I can use?”

“Oh, sure, no problem. Head over to customer service.”

I dashed over to find no one there so I waited patiently….for about 30 seconds. I could see Rolly, I could see my groceries and dreaded at the thought that Phillip’s ice cream was going to melt before I could get this taken care of. (He was REALLY looking forward to Southern Banana Pudding Ice Cream).

I clear my throat and tap at a little door that’s behind the counter. “Hello? Anyone?”

I step back once the door opens to find the most sour of faces greet me. Her lips were puckered, her brow was furrowed. Goodness.

“I need to use your phone.”

She looks at me as though I had spoken a phrase not uttered by normal people. Everyone has a phone. Normal people have phones.

I kept stepping back past the counter, back into civilian territory as her face still quizzes with suspicion, confusion and even a little sneer.

“My card isn’t working so I need to use your phone to call the number on the back and figure out what’s wrong.”

She rolls her eyes, picks up the receiver and asks, “What’s the number?”

The story just gets more marvelous from here.

I look down and ironically sigh with a smile and think to myself, of course this would happen. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t have my glasses. I can’t see the number.”

Now, at this point she’s just bothered. Just bothered with me. I hand her my card, she punches angrily at the phone keys, then hands me the receiver and walks away.

Oh, thank goodness. Ok, calm, Gregory. Calm. We’re about to get this all sorted, buy our groceries and go home. 

Denied.

WHAT? Yes, apparently, the customer service telephone at Publix blocks calls that begin with 8. You know, 800, 866. The whole lot of them we all use to call…..customer service!

A manager walks out with the woman who dialed the call for me. I quickly say, “I’m sorry, but your phone. It won’t let me call out.”

Blank-eyed behind masks they waited for the rest of what I had to say. “And?”

“Well, this phone doesn’t work, so do you have a different line in the office?”

“No, this is our only phone.”

“This is the only phone in the building and it won’t call out? There has GOT to be a phone somewhere in here that can call out…”

She finally tosses her hands in the air and says loudly, “It’s the only phone! It doesn’t call out!” And the look of, “What else?” left lingering in the air as I suddenly felt sullen and weak.

I felt like an old man. A bothersome old man. Irrelevant. I felt like this pathetic, sad, out of touch old soul who was annoying people and didn’t know why. My card was declined, I don’t have a phone, can’t read because I don’t have my glasses, and apparently I don’t know how phones work.

I shook my head and said, “Is there another manager I can speak with? All I want is use of a phone.”

“Colleen is in the office,” I was told. The body language as I walked away was apparent to anyone sitting back watching. I was no longer their problem, thank God….And mine? Mine suffered. Fear was getting me. My agoraphobia was rushing in like the bad dose of tranquil high.

Hurry home, it kept saying. You’re not safe here. They’re mocking you. They’re laughing at you. You should have never left home. This unpleasantness would have never happened.

My body language crept with defeat, fear, cowardice in a corner. Hunched, head bowed in some shame, jaws grit, eyes diverted. I had gone from a statuesque 5’11 to a measly 2″. And you could see it. I felt panicky, in desperate need of refuge.

I told Colleen what was happening and to her credit, she only looked at me blanked eyed for about a minute then handed me her personal phone to call the number. I sat in a chair and thanked her from the bottom of my heart. This is all I wanted. “Sure, use mine.”

I took it, stared at it. God, please no. Don’t make me have to say it….figure it out, GREGORY!!!!

“Ma’am. I don’t have my glasses and I can’t see the number on my card….and I don’t know how to use this phone.” If anything, I sounded like someone in desperate need of just….basic functioning in the modern world.

She took my card, the phone, dialed, handed them back and there we go.

Call received. Press one for this, press two for that. Ding! We’re in! I sighed with relief.

“We’re sorry, but due to Covid-19, we have scaled back on our staff. Our office hours are 9am……”

And here it was approximately 7:30am…..

I hung up, handed it back to her, lowering my posture even further. She asked if I would like my groceries kept in the cooler while I figure things out. Of course. And thank you.

There was nothing else to do but wait until 9am. So, I left. Walked out of the store with my sense of worth the lowest it had been in a very long time. I kept thinking about those two women at the customer service desk. Defeated step after defeated step, I felt so broken.

I was just seen as some silly old, out of touch man who had been sheltered from the world for so long he didn’t even know how to use a cell phone. And they made me feel awful for it. They just made me feel like…..well, the old man I feared I had become. Irrelevant and dismissed.

I’m not sure what happened. I cannot tell you with any real certainty what eureka happened in my head that made me turn around when I was half way home. God only knows.

I got a $20 donation recently from a very kind woman who wrote, “Kept saying what needs to be said.”

Yes, Gregory, you can be brave when you write.  You can take an idea to the mat with your convictions. But, you don’t stand up for yourself in real life. In scripted diatribes about injustice, you often forget about yourself. You CAN do both. Stand up for yourself, man!

Oh, I knew then exactly what she meant. If ever there was a time to say what needed to be said, it was now. NOW. Little things, big things. Corona cannot be used as an excuse for blatant rudeness or dismissal.

It was somewhat ceremonious, this pivot I took. Imagine me walking down Ferncreek Avenue something of an emotional wreck, bent over and nearly at tears, headed home to be sheltered with my agoraphobia comforting me.

F%!k that. I’m not doing that again. I have worked hard to get myself out of isolation, back into the world. I’m not letting someone else ruin it.

And that was all the conviction I needed to turn my heels on their tread and head back to Publix, back to those two women specifically.

I began to walk upright, reclaiming every inch shy of my 6 foot height. My ball cap was up, not pulled over my face in shame. My chin was up, not pulled down by doubt and self blame.

With every step back to Publix my posture matured. My timid steps were now a gallant stroll. My boots made no hushed shuffle of a weary man, no. They elegantly, purposely, causally stomped with intention. One long denim leg after another.

I was allowing my stride to introduce me when I walked back into that store.

I saw the two same women at customer service. “Hello. Not sure if you remember me, but my name is Gregory. I’d like for you to go get my shopping cart from out of the cooler, please. Keep the groceries. I’d like to get my shopping cart and leave.”

Feigned, “awwww,” then “Gerard! Would you get this man’s groceries out the cooler?” This hollered across the store….He was five aisles away.

She continued now quietly towards me, privately, “Did you not get your card to work?”

“No. But, it doesn’t matter. The Publix at Lake Eola is a lot easier and closer than this one is, so I’ll just start going there from now on.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“You should be. I’ve been coming here for 20 years and-”

“Yes, you come here everyday.”

My eyes pierced hers.

“Everyday.”

I let that statement sit in the air for as long as I could nurture it. You said it. Not me. Yes! I let that soak into every ear that was listening while I made a scene. Anyone glancing saw this dismissed, silly, old man demand back, “Then why are you treating me like some unknown piece of trash that just walked in off the street?”

Damn. Throw down.

“The Publix at Lake Eola is actually easier to get to than this one, so I’ll just be going there from now on.”

I defiantly pulled down my bandanna off my face. I couldn’t breathe. Gasps from the onlookers! Masks are mandatory!

“Oh, thank God, I can breathe….” That was when I spied past the inept customer service manager and minion, a series of portraits on the wall. One for every manager for the store, from “grocery” to “customer service,” and one for the general manager, the head deputy in charge. His name is Hal.

I went back to my argument and pointed at his portrait. “I saw THAT man at a Lucky’s Market store opening a year ago. He asked, ‘Haven’t lost your business have I? It’s been a while since we’ve seen you.’ I told him that I had moved. And that was the only reason no one saw me at Publix for a year. Well, now I’m back. And he and half the staff noticed immediately and welcomed me back with signs that life was back to normal. Each and every one of them made notice that. They made me feel genuinely as though I had been missed.  But, today I was made to feel as though my presence here was a nothing but bother to everyone involved. I’m a joke.”

I pointed to the portrait of the General Manager and said, “And THAT man is gonna hear about it.”

I went to the Publix at Lake Eola the following day. Pleasant ride. It goes through some of the best old mossy oaked neighborhoods you’ve ever seen, before spilling you into a sea of sky scrapers all perfectly blended as one. Looking forward to writing about those daily journeys and all the new characters I meet.

Maybe it’s time for new roads, new habits. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise. I need to let go of the familiarity…..and find something shockingly new. I’m looking forward to grabbing my little shopping cart, hopping buses and finding new faces to call friends 20 years further from now.

By the way, I sent an email to Publix. Have yet to hear a response….My bank finally responded, though. My card was declined because they did an update to their system at a time when they thought fewer people were using their cards. “Ooops! Sorry about that. Here is a $10 credit for your trouble.”

I couldn’t help but reply, “Oh, if you only knew the series of events that one issue caused…..”

If you appreciate my work and would like for this blog to continue, please donate to help keep it going. Every single dollar helps and I wouldn’t have the courage do it without your support.

 

 

 

15 comments

  1. God bless you Gregory. God bless you for not giving into your agoraphobia. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” You can stamp such experiences, Permission DENIED!

  2. You will never know how proud I am of you right now. For doing this and writing it and most of all for sharing it with us.

  3. That all took a lot of courage. Good for you! You should be extremely, extremely proud of yourself. I know that I am proud of you. Sometimes it is really difficult to stand up for yourself & I know that for a fact.

  4. Good for you for standing up to the bitch in the car and to the Publix store employees. You’ve come a long way baby

  5. I love the name “Rolly”. I’m a New Yorker. We all have shopping carts. I never thought to “name” them. It’s funny that the connotation for these things depends on the context. I just call my cart my city cart. Simple.
    It’s odd to me that anyone would (or could) be critical of a tool like a shopping cart. It’s sort of like an umbrella in my mind’s eye. I didn’t name my umbrella either…
    “My” cart is over 40 years old and is a steel shopping cart that is serviceable but not chic. Still, it’s fun to look at some of the chic carts(see https://www.thekitchn.com/10-shopping-carts-to-make-carless-trips-to-the-grocery-store-easier-product-roundup-217098)

    BTW- I hate trying to read anything without my glasses. It can be the bane of existence for those at midlife: the need to have reading glasses! Until my mid 50’s I had 20/20 vision. In 2020 that is no longer the case (and hasn’t been for some years). Sigh.
    The one thing that impresses me is that the day became a pretty good story. Yup. So you got that going for you. Which is nice (as Bill Murray would say). Keep collecting stories.

  6. Gregory, thank you for bravery and candor. I was feeling overwhelmed today, and in truth, I clicked the email link so I could unsubscribe. It has been a while since I’ve taken the time to read your posts, and my inbox is feeling out of control, as are some of the events in my life. So thankful that I stopped and read today’s post. NO WAY am I unsubscribing…what was I even thinking? I bought your book and subscribed to your blog for a reason! You’re one of the good ones, Gregory, and I WILL make the time to read your generous work. Stay strong, my friend! Thank you for today’s reality check.

  7. I’m sorry you had such rotten customer service. Publix is usually good. I hope Publix Corporate responds appropriately to your well-founded complaint.

  8. Congratulations on winning that battle with your inner demons! And for taking on the indifference of those store employees. If I were there I’d have been applauding, and then asked if you’d like a ride to that other store.

    You are heard. You are seen. You have value and worth. You make a difference.

  9. I love you Gregory. Every inch of you. I am so proud of you for standing up for yourself. Don’t you feel better? Happy day to you.

  10. It’s sad isn’t it. You go out of your way, and give your business to a company only to have their employees make you feel that way. It’s happened to me, and I never went back. My grocery store manager may not know my name but he recognizes my face, I have talked to him on several occasions. One time I went in to get groceries and only had my check book and no ID. They called him up and when I explained that I had left my id at home he said I know you, you are in here all the time. I will approve it for you. How simple that is. Basic kindness, respect, caring. Thankfully there are people out there that still remember what it is. I am kind to people wherever I go, even if I am unhappy with my service. I am sorry you were treated that way, there really is no excuse for it. I work for my brother and if one of our employees behaved that way to a customer, they would either get a strict talking to or they would be fired. My brother does not put up with bad customer service from his employees, even me. I can tell you that if you emailed from the Publix website, the manager won’t get it, it will go to the franchisee that owns the store. Depends on them as to whether or not they will reply. Any of our complaints that go through the head office is sent to my brother and me for us to deal with. I shop from small stores as much as I can because the big ones get so big that they forget who made them big. I hope they contact you, they should after the issue you had. HUGS!

  11. I struggle with agoraphobia as well, along with CPTSD, major depressive disorder and severe anxiety. I had to beat me agoraphobia because I had special needs children that I had to take to appointments. We canceled and rescheduled a lot of days I couldn’t do it, but I kept pressing on, because my children needed me to. You may not know me, but I’m proud of you. No one should ever feel the way you were made to feel. Keep on keeping on and keep speaking the truth. There are more of us out here than you know, living your life through your blog and I’d love to knit with you someday. Have your man hug you from me, and hug him from me as well. This internet stranger is rooting for you every day. Thank you for all to do.

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