Sunday, October 08, 2006


Supermarket Sweep, originally uploaded by Ѕavvo.

That was today's prompt from Sunday Scribblings. Take a notebook and actively observe another person; then record what you see.

It sounded like fun, but I didn't have time. We had a family birthday party, and as always, I was unprepared. Guests arriving at 1:30 and there I was rolling into the grocery store at 1:22.

Fortunately, as I said, it was family. People who will go in and get themselves a beer or a cup of tea. People who don't mind if the house is in a bit of disarray. People who know my bad habits. But still. Did I always have to do this?

So no, there would be no Sunday Scribbling for me. I had neither a notebook, nor a spare moment to people watch.

I raced through the supermarket in track shoes, tossing a few items that might constitute a meal--or might not--into the cart.

I saw no one and nothing. No, wait. I saw Pat--my favorite supermarket lady.

I immediately got into her line. Since the weather was very fine, I asked Pat when she was getting out of work. Would she have time to enjoy the day?

"Not till six," Pat said, uncharacteristically grumpy. "And I'm already tired."

I muttered something about the holiday weekend. The store being busy.

"That's not it," Pat said. She stopped in the middle of packing my groceries and gave me a long, serious look. (Maybe Pat was planning to write about me for Sunday scribblings? I waited for her to take out her notebook and pencil, but the cashier had other things on her mind.)

"It's my family," she said. "They just expect so much from me. They won't even replace a roll of toilet paper when it runs out. Just go upstairs and use the other bathroom."

"Oh yeah, mine do that, too," I said, figuring the least I could do was concur. "Is it too much trouble to take the hair out of the drain after a shower?"

Pat smiled, obviously enjoying my complaints. "You have a nice day now," she said, handing me my receipt.

"You too, hon."

I glanced up at the clock. 1:35. I'd been fast. In fact, for the amount of stuff in my cart, I'd probably broken a couple of supermarket records. But I was still late. And fifteen minutes from home. Damn.

I put down my head, intending to charge for the car when I came face to face with the woman I was meant to see.

She was with a man, but I didn't notice him much. He wasn't the one I needed to look at.

The woman was breakably thin, but there was no sign she was going to break any time soon. I put her age at about forty. Her stringy hair was streaked a harsh gold; and her face was what my mother used to call hard, but she had astonishing green eyes.

While her man hung back, she moved efficiently to the trash can outside the supermarket and began to hunt for cans. When she found one, she tossed it to him, and he stuffed it into a back pack. Obviously, they did this often, and had gotten it down to a smooth operation.

They seemed oblivious to the shoppers who were weaving their way around them, and to me--watching a little too nakedly.

Her jeans had that slick look jeans gets when they haven't been washed in a while, but her eyes were lined with dark pencil. Obviously, however difficult her life was, she had made an effort to look nice.

I wondered what they were hoping to buy with the money. Alcohol? Drugs?

I wondered at their presence among the busy shoppers who were pushing laden carts toward their SUVs .

Then the woman looked briefly back at me, and I realized that however her life looked to me from the outside, it felt different to her. Her face seemed to say, whatever you think you know about me, you're wrong.

I pushed my cart away thinking of how impenetrable the world sometimes is, even when you look really closely. In fact, sometimes the only respectful attitude toward other people is admitting how little you know of their hearts. And how often your assumptions are wrong.

I got home at just about two. Everyone else was pulling in at the same time.

"We knew you'd be late," my son Josh said.

Then we all went inside and had a party.


chuck said...

We all share the planet...sometimes past 'selves' experiences can put a damper on one's day...on my day,anyway--when I forget my own "homeless periods".

Patry Francis said...

chuck: "Past selves" is a good description of it. Though I've never been homeless and don't know for sure whether this woman was either, seeing her brought back a different kind of past-self experience for me. I thought of all the times people had looked at me and made assumptions--and how wrong they'd been.

rdl said...

Great post! and I'm not surprised a bit either. Who's Birthday?

Patry Francis said...

Thanks, r. It was Stacey's b-day.

MB said...

whatever you think you know about me, you're wrong.
Great post, Patry.

Lorna said...

you nefarious multi-tasker!

Patry Francis said...

Thanks, MB.

Lorna: Nefarious--probably, but pretty much a failure at multi-tasking.

Anonymous said...

You have such a wonderful way with words and I am always so impressed with your insightfulness.

Anonymous said...

Amazing how even small daily errands can be an adventure with so much to see and learn.

I have someone who will change the toilet paper roll, but he does it backwards every time!

Anonymous said...

"whatever you think you know about me, you're wrong." What a wonderful line Patry. (I see it's MB's too!) And a lovely piece of writing. Thank you.

floots said...

beautifully put together
trivial serious and engrossing all at the same time
then that last line which captures the "life goes on" feeling and somehow simultaneously underlines and undercuts what you've told us

great stuff

Kay Cooke said...

Great writing - you put me right there with you in that supermarket.

re the trolley photo: so supermarket trolleys get dumped in rivers, creeks etc in other countries too? And here I was thinking it was just Otago Uni students who did that!

Anonymous said...

I love the peek you gave us into both of those women's lives...and that you reminded me (since I probably need to be reminded daily) to not assume ANYTHING.

Anonymous said...

The one thing I got out of this post, was how much your learned and gained from just talking and interacting with those around you. Sometimes I have the habit of just walking through my day without noticing anything.

Left-handed Trees... said...

Wow...this post was something wonderful. I didn't manage to do a post for Sunday Scribblings, but I was dazzled by this one. Here you are again, finding the "humanity" in whatever situation...

The Curmudgeon said...

Actually, this is responding to the October 5 post -- I put my response on my site. Hope that's OK with you.

Fred Garber said...

When you close your eyes can you see her green ones

Anonymous said...

Yes, I wonder what it would be like to look, not just at other people, but the world, without assumptions, without preconceptions? I'd like to believe it would appear fresh and raw, but suspect I couldn't make sense of it. So, given our preconceptions colour everything no matter how hard we try, perhaps what's most important is to recognise that and be prepared to discard or modify what we find wrong in ourselves?

Wonderful: a vividly drawn and thoughtful post, Patry. As usual.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Isn't it amazing how someone can affect your life without saying a single word?

Then there's you, Patry, who can change my whole day using nothing except words.

Okay, and a few choice pictures, but they're just icing.

Patry Francis said...

coll: Thank you for such kind words.

colleen: Joe doesn't sound like the type who wouldn't replace the tp. Backwards still counts!

bloglily: Thank you for this--and also for being the starting point in my recent blog game. You have a most interesting blogroll.

floots: I tend to find the serious and the engrossing right there in the midst of the trivial. Thank you for looking--and for really seeing.

chiefbiscuit: Oh yes, they get dumped in rivers, small ponds, and marshes. I always find something poignant about the sight of them--

marilyn: You just made me realize how cheerful Pat had sneaked into the story and become a presence as significant as the woman with the cans. (And I'm sure you don't assume.)

neil: I do that, too. But lately, since I've been spending so many hours in my office writing, every outing in the real world feels like a field trip.

curmudgeon: I'll have to stop over and check it out!

fred: How did you know?

pete: I would have thought you frequently suspend assumption when you go out and look at the world with your camera. You always make me see things differently.

Anonymous said...

I love the title alone. Whether you write about it or not, this is an excellent daily practice, and if you can learn to expand it to more than one person, even better.

Visual artists do this all the time, but often we are just looking at light on surfaces, lines, musculature, how things grow and fit together, less at souls, more at shapes, though just as often the one informs the other.

In planting the seeds of my own service ethic, a friend of mine -- and I may have quoted her here before, saying this very thing even, but I'm middle-aged and senile, so please forgive me if that's the case -- told me that Ram Dass once said that in order to learn compassion one must first learn to see the "God" in everyone, "God" here meaning that kernel or spark of whatever is divine that is in every living thing. Trying to see what you can see about the truth of lives around you, the part of which being made available to you, a stranger, may not be a story, only a set of emotions, but still very, very real, is another step on that same path, I think.

And of course I really like what Pohangina Pete said, too. See how refreshed you feel just taking one long, close look at someone else, even a necessarily veiled look, even from a distance.

It's a very, very nice exercise, whether you write about it or not. And yes, you executed it beautifully, as usual.

Patry Francis said...

robin: You are so right. We are being affected by people all the time, and we are affecting others, too--just by the way we walk through this world. Rather a huge responsibility when you think of it. (p.s. You always have a good effect on me, too!)

sara: Interesting the way you see it as a visual artist. When I wrote poetry a lot, I went through a wonderful phase when I "saw in poetry". It's hard to explain, but I think you know what I mean. Wherever I went, the world opened up and revealed its hidden poetry. Maybe just as it's possible to see in poetry, or to see in light and lines as an artist, with enough training, one might learn to see in compassion. We can dream, right?

Anonymous said...

I was just going to tell you how wonderful this post is - then I read your comment about "learning to see in compassion," and now I want to tell you how reading all of your posts (and their accompanying comments) is helping me learn how to do that, just a little more everyday.

Thank you!

Patry Francis said...

tinker: I feel like I'm learning that from my commenters as well. You have no idea how grateful I am--

herhimnbryn said...

Green eyes, green eyes. You saw her eyes, the beauty in that 'hard' face.
You spent the whole of that trip to the market observing, recalling and noting. You are an inspiration.
I hope I remember and recall my next trip to buy groceries.

Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, I began to write a lengthy comment to this wonderful post and turned it into one of my own posts instead. With a link, of course! Thanks...again. K.

Patry Francis said...

herhimnbryn: Love the exuberance of your comments. Now every time I go out to hang my laundry, I think of you in Australia with your high blue sky and your magpies.

K: I love it when that happens!