At work this morning, as I was stocking bananas, I had multiple little old ladies ask me whether I had any greener/riper/smaller ones. One of them, when I tried to explain that I was looking at the same bananas she was, and that the day’s shipment are usually all pretty similar in terms of color, started fake-sobbing.
This same woman then told me that the nectarines she’d bought last week had failed to ripen. I apologized and told her they could reimburse her at the register. “But the ones I got the time before that, they were so good,” she said, her accent vaguely European, possibly German.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “It’s also the end of the season for stonefruit…”
“I didn’t know they wouldn’t ripen.” It was almost a protest. As though I hadn’t already told her she could have her money back without a problem. Then something else caught her attention. “How are the strawberries?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t eaten any strawberries today.”
This is about as rude as I get at work, which I think (I hope) is not very rude. It’s more of a slightly frustrated, deer-in-headlights reaction to people asking me questions I can’t believe they’re actually asking me. Later, in the back, I relayed this story to a few coworkers and asked sarcastically, “Do I look like a freakin’ farmer to you?! I don’t know the sweetness and ripeness of every piece of produce we carry on a daily basis. I just work here. I just put the shit on the shelf.”
My coworkers laughed, and I forgot about it and went back to work, which is usually how these stories end. Of course, if that was really the end, there would be no point in telling it here. But the fake-crying German lady wishing I was a farmer was only the opening act for today’s Weird and Inappropriate Questions Show.
Later in my shift, back over in the produce section, a much younger woman was looking at a package of fresh edamame. She saw me standing a few feet away from her, turned, held out the package, and asked:
“Do you know if it’s okay to have soy” [and I saw this one coming from a mile away] “when you’re pregnant?”
I glanced at her stomach. She didn’t look pregnant, yet. “I don’t know,” I said quickly. She had already walked away, kind of laughing at her ignorance, by the time I regained my composure. I would have liked to add, “That’s something you should ask your doctor.”
Do I look like a freakin’ doctor to you?! I just work here. I just put the shit on the shelf.
My mind started racing, full of hurt and hurtful and spiteful “comebacks” to the insult this poor girl didn’t even know she’d delivered: “I don’t know; I’ve never been pregnant.” “I don’t know; I can’t get pregnant.” “I love edamame; maybe that’s why I lost my baby.” “Here, let’s ask this guy over here – he has about as much experience with pregnancy as I do.”
I pushed all these thoughts away, refusing to let them poison me, glad that the girl hadn’t pressed the issue. Maybe she sensed the discomfort in my simple, “I don’t know.” Because sometimes people will use a silly question like that to segue into a whole conversation about things I don’t want to have a conversation about. Like pregnancy, or the time a customer apologized for asking one of my coworkers for plastic bags instead of paper, explaining that she needed them to dispose of her mother’s diapers.
Instead of retreating to the back – to do what? It’s not like I was going to cry – I walked over to one of my friends and told him, “I should’ve just made something up.” I explained what had happened. “I should’ve said it depends on the sex of the baby – because, you know, if it’s a boy, and soy contains estrogen…”
My friend laughed, and told a stupid question story of his own: one of our managers had called him from the office today, because a customer wanted to know what kind of flowers she should get for a friend who’s colorblind. My friend, who is also colorblind but had no idea how to respond, had said she should get flowers that smell good.
We laughed, and I forgot about it and went back to work.
Oh, but now that I’ve come home and looked it up? Pregnant women shouldn’t eat soy if they’re having a boy. Who knew? Oh that’s right: me. Farmer, doctor, grocery clerk extraordinaire.