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Special Delivery, Name Tags and Chili Pots

Some unrelated musings today:

“Interpersonal communication skills” is not something you read on job postings much anymore. That has been replaced by “technical skills.” “I am a people person,” is not a phrase you hear frequently anymore either. As someone who was raised in an environment where human interaction was common, this change sometimes leaves me feeling like an alien.

I honestly didn’t know how much of a people person I was until a few weeks ago when a man came to deliver a package to my front door. I saw his van pull in the driveway, and my first thought (even before what’s in the package) was, “Oh good, here is an opportunity to bring joy to someone’s day!” I got up off my place on the couch and went to answer the door. I startled the delivery guy when I greeted him and smiled, and it was obvious that my presence made him feel awkward. I understood when he apologized profusely and looked away before tossing the package onto my porch, photographing it with his phone, picking it up and handing it to me. Before I had a chance to properly look him in the eye and thank him with some kind words he was halfway to his van.

I went back in the house, and laughed out loud about it every time I thought about that for the rest of the day. In retrospect, though, it seems rather sad. He was of course only doing his job (which nowadays means doing our best to cover each other’s and our employers’ butts). Yet, that moment robbed us both of the opportunity to make each other smile and have a short pleasant exchange. I am sure he never gave that a second thought, but I did. How many times a day are we sacrificing joyful deeds for what have become necessary actions to protect ourselves from possible entanglement with our legal system. Or giving up the chance to relieve stress with shared laughter because we are so wrapped up in our distractions.

Life is definitely weird now when it comes to exercising people skills. At shops, if employees have name tags, I call them by name. This produced interesting results one day when I told one of the employees at my local coffee shop that I wanted to send his supervisor a complimentary email commending his amazing customer service. He told me that the names displayed on their tags were fake to “protect” them, so he had to secretly tell me his real name so I could send the email. Now I always wonder if that is a common practice. In restaurants if my server introduces him or herself to me by name, they are likely to get an extra tip and a personalized cheer note on the receipt. I once had a server approach my table after I paid and before I left. He thanked me profusely for “taking the time” to write the note because it made his day. It was one sentence and I didn’t even think about the thirty seconds of my life that I had sacrificed to appreciate someone.

The Chili Pot Crime

It’s high time I got this off of my chest. Several years ago, I threw out my chili pot at Tim Horton’s. Granted, this act was completely unintentional. But when I realized what I had done, I made the conscious decision not to retrieve it or tell someone. And that was just plain wrong.

I was with my then teenage daughter and her friend that night, and we had stopped for an evening snack on our way home from a concert. It was late, so the restaurant was almost deserted. Our conversation centered on our experience at the counter. While we were waiting for our food orders (which were all mixed up somehow) one of the employees less educated in the culinary arts was telling his co-worker that he didn’t know the official recipe for ice. He was serious. We laughed about this while enjoying our food.

When we were finished, I cleared the table and committed my crime. I removed the trays and headed for the garbage receptacle. I was distracted momentarily as I pushed open the front door of the trash bin and poured in the contents. My empty chili pot was on the little paper tray liner and it slide right in with the used napkins, paper cups and plastic ware. I wasn’t paying the least bit of attention until I heard the clunk. Then the realization of what had happened hit me. I was horrified. I quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed. No one had. I momentarily contemplated the morally correct thing to do in this situation. After all, I did have an example to set for the teenagers. Yet, it wasn’t a very important piece of dishware to me. It was simply a giant (and loud) ceramic bowl that probably cost all of a dollar when purchased in bulk. Lifting the lid of a public trash can at the end of a busy day to retrieve it would make me look mighty creepy. It would also be disgusting. Admitting my mistake to the staff would make me look like an idiot. They would offer me a job. (This is a joke for all of you retail coffee shop workers).

So I returned to the table where the girls were still giggling, burst into laughter, and managed to stammer, “I flung the chili pot.” I could barely contain myself as they cocked their heads asking for an explanation. When I calmed down, I told them what I had done. They agreed that the best thing to do would be to make a quick exit, which is exactly what we did. I justified my actions by calculating every overpriced Timbit I’d ever devoured.

Over time I have realized that I did not behave as a mature adult that night. I was presented with the golden opportunity to admit my error publicly and to liberate every child who had ever accidently slid their retainer into a fast food garbage can. But I failed. So as penance, I just want to say that if I could absentmindedly plunk a five-pound chili pot into a garbage can, junior should be forgiven for losing his orthodontia.


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