Lessons from the Walmart Line

I'm at Walmart and I'm tired. Tired of getting run over by motorized carts. Tired of picking my daughter's' shoes off the floor of every single aisle. Tired of hearing her discuss with her echo how awesome it is to be a baby, which sounds something like "Eeeeeee!" It's time to go home, have lunch and then a nap for her and I'm on a deadline. This, of course, means she won't nap and look at that, my quality Walmart milk is leaking all over the cart.

After another trip to the dairy section impeded by shoe droppings and squealing, we are finally back in line. I don't know if I've made this clear enough to the cashier and everyone around me, but I want to be left alone. I furrow my brow and think mean thoughts about the extreme couponer ahead of me holding up the line. If you got a real job, you'd probably make more than you saved on those coupons and you wouldn't waste my time. I even cross my arms over my chest in a classic, "Do not mess with me" gesture, honed to perfection by staring down friendly travelers on airplanes. My dad is a lawyer. I know how to do anti-social, it's in my DNA.

And then I hear giggles and I look down and there is Ellis, smiling and waving "hiiiiiiiiiiiii!" to someone behind me. If I hold still they won't see I'm there. That works for people at Walmart and bears, right? But, it's too late.

"Ma'am," says a man's voice. I turn. If I weren't already grimacing, I would do so now. So, instead my expression turns from "Don't tread on me," to an angry "What the nut?" I am not being a good person.

The man is in saggy pants and a dirty orange hunting jacket that reveals a shirt which declares, "Women find me sexy." His hair is standing on end; not showering is the new mousse. He smells like tobacco and body odor. His face is pockmarked and red, his teeth are missing. Meth. It's something you learn living in Iowa -- how to spot a meth-head. It's up there with how to spot a good ear of corn.

"Ma'am," he says, "your baby is so cute."

"Thanks," I say. He has tears in his eyes. Crap. Now there is emotion.

"It's just that, people don't really smile like that anymore at strangers. Just babies. So, anyway, her smile just means a lot to me today."

He reaches out and pats Ellis on the hand. She mirrors his toothless grin.

I don't want to learn anything standing in line at Walmart. I want to check my phone. I want to go home. I want to drink the Coke in my cart. Instead, I find myself wanting to hug that meth-head. But I don't because, again, I was raised by a lawyer. So I try to smile with all my teeth and uncross my arms and realize that when it comes to being a nice person, I've been bested by a baby and a meth-head.

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