Do you carry picture hanging hardware?" I asked a guy stocking detergent at the back of the store, and for a split second I had that horrible feeling that he wasn't actually an employee, but just a regular fellow doing a little shopping who also happened to like to wear thin, cotton vests.
I had been burned before -- asked someone if they could help me, thinking they worked at a store when they didn't. In fact, it was only about a week earlier, in a different store, that I had asked a woman if she knew where I could find purple paper napkins. She had on a name tag. She appeared in charge. I assumed she worked there.
Never assume, my dear friends. Never assume.
"Do I look like someone who would know where you could find purple paper napkins?" the woman said as she spun around to face me.
She had a name tag hanging around her neck, all right, and it was even the same color as the ones worn by the store employees. But she let me know right quick that she did not work there and she did not make it a habit to know where purple paper napkins were kept.
She, quite frankly, scared the bejeezus out of me.
I still remember her face. It was hard and mean and she had on these big dangly earrings that moved back and forth as she berated me. She was holding a multi-pack of chocolate candy bars in one hand. A sight I won't soon forget.
Thank goodness, though, this guy actually worked in the store. He turned around and there it was, his name tag, with the name of the store on it.
"Yes, ma'am, over there at the end of the aisle. Right where that gentleman is standing," he said and pointed to a little rack of nails and such just a few feet away. I thanked him and walked over.
"Is this what you're looking for?" an older gentleman asked, and held out a small package of little nickel-plated nails and hooks you use to hang pictures on the wall. Yes, that was exactly what I was looking for, I told him.
"Here, take this one," he said. "It's the last one."
I couldn't take his hooks and nails. I couldn't possibly.
"Really, I don't think she needs to put anymore holes in the wall," he said, and I assumed he was talking about his wife before he even told me. "My wife has been putting unnecessary holes in the wall for 37 years. It's about time she stopped. Yes, she needs to stop."
There was a story there, I knew it, but I didn't think it was my place to ask. So I didn't, but I did ask three, maybe even four, times if it he really didn't want the last pack of nickel-plated hooks and nails and he assured me, double-assured me, that he didn't and I could have them. He was very nice, and I told him so four, maybe five, times, and was still thanking him as we checked out and he paid for his dog food and a multi-pack of chocolate candy bars.
And there it was. A flashback. Of the mean woman in the grocery store a week or so earlier.
And suddenly, there she was. The woman. The mean woman with the face I won't soon forget. Right there in the parking lot, sitting in a car. The car. The car that the nice man who had just given me the last pack of nickel-plated hooks and nails was getting into. The pack of nickel-plated hooks and nails that his wife had asked for and he gave to me, instead.
Poor man. I've often thought of him since that day about a week or so ago. Did she yell at him, or did he just tell her they were out of hooks and nails? Maybe he stood up to her and told her to stop putting holes in the wall. Maybe she knocked him over the head with the hammer. Maybe.
There is some moral to be found here, some sign from the universe, I am sure of it. I don't know what it is, though. What goes around, comes around? Do unto others as you would have done unto you? I'm just not sure. So many questions ...
Like, does anybody know where I can find purple paper napkins? I'm scared to ask.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.