Benjamin T. King: Lingering Over Conversation with a Cashier (Because We All Need Someone We Can Lean On)

For the Monitor
Published: 3/12/2021 7:39:59 AM

I generally avoid personal conversations with cashiers, adhering to the maxim of Dr. Rick from those priceless Progressive commercials that, “the waiter doesn’t need to know your name.” I’d rather not be giving the cashier my money, just as she would likely rather not be taking it. We would both surely prefer to sit on our couches, in our respective homes, on a cold February night when snow is predicted...again.

But the cashier needs her paycheck, and I need my toilet paper, so we will carry out the transaction. We will exchange pleasantries and necessary information (I’ll give her my CVS ExtraCare number, otherwise how would I earn my beloved points?), but share the details of our lives we shall not.

That’s if I’m the customer. Other customers may feel differently.

The fellow in front of me in line at CVS plunked down a glucose meter on the counter while sighing, heavily. The cashier was no doubt grateful for the plexiglass separating her from her patrons, because the fellow wore his mask around his chin, New Hampshire style. Many folks here continue to believe that coronavirus transmits through beard stubble.

“I’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes!” the fellow exclaimed. “I just turned 42 in December, and I went to my doctor for my checkup, and....”

Perhaps if we were at the back of the store, and the fellow were speaking with the pharmacist, my ears would have perked up. “This guy is about to disclose confidential medical information to the pharmacist,” I might have said to myself, “I shouldn’t be hearing this, but I can hear everything perfectly, because he is holding forth as though making a public proclamation! I should listen! This might be interesting!”

But we weren’t before the pharmacist. We were before a cashier who looked about as interested as hearing this guy unburden his soul as she would be to hear that a child had upchucked supper in aisle 6.

I tuned out, distracted by Dolores O’Riordan singing “Linger” through the store’s loudspeakers. Absentmindedly, I set down my basket of toilet paper and bottled water so I could strum the air and sing along. “Do you have to? Do you have to? Do you have to let it linger?” A shadow may have crossed my face as I recalled that the singer was yet another musician who has brought joy to my life who, herself, no longer lived.

The customer’s comments jolted me from my reverie, however, making me wish I hadn’t drifted, no matter how much I might love that song.

“Well, I used to hike, but I fell from a cliff and shattered my meniscus,” the customer continued as he told the tale of his life to the cashier, whose bored expression the last time I’d checked had transformed into impatient incredulousness, somehow lost on my fellow patron.

“Well, I hope the meter works out for you, sir, but I do have to help these other customers!” she smiled, pointing at the line of folks that I led.

He turned in my direction, and suddenly I twinged slightly at having faulted him for unburdening his soul to a cashier. I recognized the disbelief, and the fear, upon his face. I, too, was diagnosed with diabetes rather late in life. I was fortunate to have others in whom to confide my feelings, besides a cashier. Perhaps this fellow didn’t.

Still, I wondered how the confession of a diabetes diagnosis had led to a tale of tearing a meniscus while falling off a cliff. I shall never know, thanks to “Linger,” by the Cranberries.

I approached the counter and laid my goods down. To my surprise, the cashier engaged me in conversation beyond the transaction, complimenting my Rolling Stones mask, which brandishes those iconic lips.  Those lips actually appear to move when I speak, because I do try to wear the mask over my mouth.

I thanked her, and as I gathered my purchases to leave the store, I found myself warbling one of my favorite Stones songs. “We all need...someone...we can lean on/And if you want to...you can lean on me.”

I was happy for the jukebox in my mind to change the tune. “Let It Bleed” is a cheerier tune to sing than “Linger,” when venturing into a cold winter’s night.

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


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