Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kindness and Creeps in the Suburbs

In the last suburban city where I lived, in Northern California, I was not particularly suited.  It was the wrong place for me, and eventually my family moved across the country.  I have been much happier since.

I still am left with several memories.  I share two small ones here.

One is of the city's supermarket, where I shopped just about every week.

Often, I would find a cents-off coupon sitting on a shelf near something I was buying.

Some person in town obviously made it his or her business to clip out discount coupons and place them near the appropriate products all over the grocery store.  This went on for years.

This anonymous commitment of time that would benefit only strangers surprised me.  It struck me as generous.

In addition, the people who stocked the shelves and worked the cash registers were friendly; the man who ran the produce department often would recommend particular fruits and vegetables and new ways to prepare and serve them.

The same town also had a library that I visited often.  Its collection was not large, and usually I searched mostly for new releases.  Often, after I had taken a book home, I would find underlined sentences and comments written in the page margins.

Once, when I checked out a book about mathematics, I found the previous library patron had done numerical calculations in the margins. He (I'm pretty sure it was a man) couldn't even take the small effort to pull out a sheet of paper to do his computations.

This too went on for years and was so common that I grew quite familiar with the handwriting.

I have never encountered this phenomenon in any other library I have visited.  I found it infuriating.  How dare someone damage a community's library with his lazy, self-important musings?

Then one day, when I was searching the regular shelves for some research I was doing, a strange man came up to me and asked for help finding something; apparently he was unfamiliar with the Dewey Decimal System.  Basically, he was trying to pick me up.  Creepy.

I thought about bringing these concerns to the librarians, but they were a cool bunch and made it pretty clear that they preferred not to be bothered. Over time I went less and less often to the library.  Eventually I stopped altogether.

As I said, it was a strange town.  The public library had relative well-paid but indifferent librarians, men trolling the stacks looking for women and an ever-increasing number of defaced books.

And yet, in the local supermarket, the lower-paid workers were friendly, and the place was visited regularly by someone who obviously spent several hours each week distributing coupons to save unknown shoppers 25 or 50 cents, here and there, on cans of soup or boxes of cereal.  For this supermarket, and particularly the coupon person, I retain a fond affection.

I still don't know what to make of it all.

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