It was an act of kindness that hopefully, he'll pay forward.
Disclaimer: This story is a personal one that I hope makes you smile and also, realize that there are people who are lonely and just need someone to "hear them out."
Last week, on one of the hottest days this area has experienced this summer, I ventured out to bag some groceries at the Jewel-Osco on Summit Street in Elgin. By "bag," I'm not talking literally, mind you.
I was pulling a cart from the corral and another shopper, a gentleman who looked to be in his late fifties or so, was doing the same. Because we were the only two people in the area where carts are stored, the silence was deafening. So naturally, I had to say something.
A vapid murmuring, about the weather. That's all I could come up with.
No sooner had I shoved my cart through the double doors leading into the market when I realized the dude was talking to me. I turned and stopped. That was my second mistake as the first was referencing the sizzling temperatures. If I had known what I was in for, I would have rocketed down any aisle as a means of escape.
I’m not quite sure how the long encounter with this man ensued, or why, as, even though I’m a veteran schmoozer, I wasn’t in the mood that day, nor did I send out signals saying, “TALK MY DANG EARS OFF.”
Because that’s what this guy did. I was barely in the store and he went on a jag the likes of which I’ve never experienced. The half smile on my face slowly froze as he shared details of his life that were better left to journaling, or something similarly time-occupying.
He told me where he lived, where he lived before his current residence, where he lived growing up, and, the fact that he’d moved around as a kid because his father was in the army. Without taking a breath, he then talked about his wife, her nursing career, and the happy fact that she loved her new job at a new hospital.
“That’s great, that’s great” was my stunningly inane response to anything. When I could get a word in, that is.
As the plastered smile on my face became more akin to the signs of rictus and I aimlessly shuffled my feet in an attempt to give this guy a clue, he segued from family member to family member. And, it was about the time when he launched into his daughter’s job search that my mind went numb.
What was I thinking, people? Although I like to engage from time to time, I would never imagine detaining someone the way this guy did to talk my fool head off.
Now, I’m something of an empath. I can sense when people are hurting or scared or merely, need someone who listens and cares. Or at the least, pretends to.
But this man, there was nothing about him that gave me a sense that he was lonely or in need of a friend, albeit one who was an absolute stranger.
He was dressed nicely in crisp shorts, a sleeveless shirt and sandals of some sort.
My point is that there was nothing about Motor Mouth that screamed “social pariah” or “I’m lonely” or anything of the kind, yet I stood there like a mannequin.
Finally, as I watched his lips move like an automaton on steroids, he took half a breath and that was my moment to flee. I estimated that we’d been standing in front of those double doors for fifteen or even, twenty minutes.
I mumbled “Have a nice day” and took off like my feet were on fire. Thankfully, I didn’t run into him again as I’d feared.
When I told my husband later, he was aghast. He couldn’t understand how I let some random guy waylay me in a grocery store so he could spew his life history.
I didn’t have an answer and I still don’t other than it was a momentary lapse in judgment. It’s not like I haven’t had them before.
What gets me is that the guy didn’t ask me one question about myself. Nada. I may as well have been invisible.
When I thought about this after listening to my husband’s incredulous response to my acquiescing to such boorish behavior, from a stranger yet, I told myself that the guy was lonely. And I truly believe he was.
I can only hope that his takeaway that day was to do as I'd done if he ever found himself in the same position as me, a stranger. And that is simply, to listen.
© Sherry McGuinn, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Sherry McGuinn is a longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. She is currently pitching her newest screenplay, “The Month We Fell Apart,” a drama with dark, comedic overtones inspired by a true story, as well as “DEAD TIRED,” a female-driven, erotic thriller.