A misunderstanding ushers in the new year

For the Monitor
Published: 1/8/2021 12:16:09 PM
Modified: 1/8/2021 12:15:55 PM

So much mirth can lie in misunderstandings, particularly when you’re not part of them.

The cashier rang up my purchases at the quiet New Year’s Day “Big 3 Pharmacy” (already decorated for Valentine’s Day, I might add, because one can never start preparing too early for the next commercially exploitable holiday) when the store manager approached.

“I’m going to miss you when you’re gone, Daphne,” the manager sighed.

Daphne’s eyes opened wide (and her mouth probably dropped open too, but with the mask, I couldn’t say for sure) as she whirled about to face her manager, instantly forgetting me.

“Am I AXED?!?” Daphne cried.

“Why, no!” the manager protested, casting a quick nervous glance in my direction. Perhaps this manager had learned in management training that firing an employer by surprise in front of a customer is not a management “best practice.”

Regardless, firing Daphne had not been the manager’s intent. “I only meant I’ll miss you when you go home!” the manager explained. “Your shift is about to end! It will be lonely here without you,” she trailed off.

Daphne, the manager, and I took a moment to survey the store. We all tacitly agreed. A desolate “Big 3 Pharmacy” adorned with Cupids and hearts would be a lonely place to spend a numbingly cold New Year’s night in New Hampshire.

Behind a sign proclaiming that “Big 3 Pharmacy” practices social distancing, the manager and the employee hugged.

“You had me worried for a moment there!” Daphne exclaimed.

“I’m worried too!” I chimed in. “Don’t you owe me 71 cents change?” Trust me, they could hear me grinning beneath my mask.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she smiled, handing me my coins.

“No need to apologize,” I replied, but I couldn’t resist a parting shot at the idiosyncrasies of their industry. “Getting fired so close to Valentine’s Day would have been a real downer.”

A momentary silence ensued before someone giggled, then someone guffawed, and then the store filled with peals of laughter.

“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” the manager gasped. “Cupids holding arrows, hearts, on NEW YEAR’S DAY?!?”

“Hush!” I cautioned, “I could be from Big 3 corporate!”

Their eyes grew so wide I couldn’t let that ruse lie for a millisecond.

“I’m not,” I reassured them, “I work in an office down the street.”

The roars of laughter warmed me like a roaring fire as I exited the store into the chilly night, not only because of the humor I had shared with these strangers but because of the constancy of its kind. Misunderstandings spawned mirth in audiences at the Globe Theater watching Shakespeare’s comedies for the first time, just as misunderstandings spawn mirth in the audiences scattered amongst our nation’s living rooms, watching reruns of Big Bang Theory in syndication.

We can’t share laughter with strangers in theatres now, but the fact that we can still laugh with strangers in a nearly vacant store when a real-life misunderstanding worthy of theatre occurs (or at least worthy of a sitcom) augurs of a hopeful future.

At least it reminds us that eternal sources of joy (like momentary misunderstandings) can buoy us in temporary tough spots.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Benjamin T. King is a Concord, NH, resident and a partner in the Concord law firm Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C.




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