Dear Prudence, Slate’s advice columnist, fielded an unusual query the other day from a person whose grocery store greeter had invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner. The letter-writer decided to try avoiding the store for a while, hoping the greeter would forget, but when they returned a few weeks later, the greeter approached them and said he was sorry Thanksgiving plans had fallen through but that he hoped he and the letter-writer could have a meal together sometime soon. Prudie (aka Danny M. Lavery) advised the writer to pretend to be super-busy and vague and complain to the store manager if the greeter ever veered from friendly to threatening.
It’s totally fair for the letter-writer to be apprehensive about having the guy from the grocery store over for dinner, especially if he just invited himself. But the letter also made me think of other grocery store employees I’ve known, especially Ted, the manager of my local grocery store. Ted is a middle-aged man with a luxuriant gray-flecked mustache. He stands in the produce section and smiles at everyone who walks in and says “It’s good to see you” like he means it. When Ted’s not there, his assistant takes up greeting duties, but it’s not the same; the assistant lacks Ted’s geniality and graciousness. Ted’s as much a part of my life as some of my coworkers. He’s much beloved in the neighborhood as well: on the multiple neighborhood Facebook groups, people are always mentioning how much they love him.
No one has ever mentioned if they’d ever invited Ted to dinner. I realize there’s a whole bunch of reasons not to—the general tendency of city people to hurry through the store as quickly as possible, the general apprehension of city people whenever someone steps out of their usual role, the general apprehension among all sorts of people of friendliness being misinterpreted in a sinister way—but the Dear Prudence letter also made me think of the grocery store employees in Florida who helped a customer get a new dog after his old one died. I’m really not sure where I’m going with this, except it made me think about how the grocery store is such a part of our lives, it follows that the people who work there should be, too.