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.
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.
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…..”
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