It seems to me we, as a people, assume an awful lot. I observed this at a local grocery last week. A man walked into the store just before me. We actually walked in side-by-side at one point when we exchanged a friendly nod and smile, but his long legs gave him an advantage and it wasn't that we were actually together, so I comfortable dropped back and allowed him the lead. I doubt he even realized I was near. From behind I could see he was nearly barefoot, his flip-flops looking rather thin and ... well ... floppy. He appeared to be grasping one of his shoes with his toes to keep it on his foot. His pants were too short for his long legs and his hair was all over the place. As we walked in, I was ignored, and all eyes were on him. As he went aisle by aisle he was being watched - first by one employee, then another. I doubted he noticed. I did.
He hadn't taken a cart as I had, opting for a handheld basket. I was intrigued by the onset of employees tracking his every move. Was he homeless? A known shoplifter? Why all the attention? As he gathered items in his basket, I added items to my cart. His items were calculated as though he had a plan. Me, too. I lost him in the dairy aisle but met up again near the checkout - a store employee and a manager keeping him within sight. I had about the same amount of groceries as the man but he motioned that I go ahead of him. I declined, but he insisted. I wasn't sure why, but I moved ahead. His actions were of great interest to the store employees and two more joined the manager.
I was so intrigued by the fuss I stayed after I had paid for my groceries. I heard the man say good morning to the cashier. She didn't respond, but rather rushed his items along, bagged them and said, "$26.11." Period. No please, no thank you. The man took out a debit card - which the cashier found odd - and ran it, then stepped aside after receiving his receipt and found a bench near the exit. He was still being watched. One of his purchases was a new pair of flip-flops, which he promptly retrieved from the bag. Removing a small knife from his pocket netted a great deal of attention from the staff - one of the employees had his cell phone in hand ... ready. The man cut the string separating the flip-flops and put them on his feet. He put his knife away.
I was still standing by the door and still wondering just what the fuss was all about. I watched the man gather the rest of his items, throwing his old flip-flops in the trash receptacle and leave the store. He was smiling. Now I was totally confused. I followed the man and as we had entered the store, we left the store. Management and staff relaxed and assumed their responsibilities. There was no conversation.
As I walked to my car, I called to the man, "Excuse me, sir?" He turned around, still smiling. "What's the deal? Why did you receive such a fuss in there?"
We continued walking side-by-side and he said, "I'm a college student and writing a paper about how people look change how they're treated by the public."
"Oh, really? How many stores have you played?"
"This was my 26th and it's always the same. But, I'll have to say, only three people in the last three months bothered to 'deal' with me at all. You're one of them." He smiled and continued, "You can be proud; people are afraid of people who are not in their league, or look as though they 'might be trouble' - you didn't do that. You smiled as we entered the store and nodded, acknowledging my presence. Most people have avoided me."
I shook my head and asked him if he always entered as a down-trodden or had he tried other scenarios. He said he tried many situations but his favorite was a bum. He was very well received when he came in wearing a suit - even catered to. He shook his head. "It's always fun to wear a suit into a shop for young people, especially because I am a young person," he said ... "same reaction as this store. The bottom line is people do not warm up to people who are not like them. It's pretty sad."
We parted and I had to agree ... what's wrong with us anyway?