I had just spent almost eleven hours of a whole entire Wednesday carrying books. It must have been about four hundred pounds of books overall, and be it as is may that I didn’t have to carry them over long distances and really a lot of people in the world have it a lot worse than I do, I will still complain that it was a grueling day because I am neither a mover or as sturdy as I often like to believe I am. But that’s not what this little post is about. It’s about the thing that happened in the Trader Joe’s on Sunset and Laurel after my grueling day.

About a half hour before closing time, on a split-second decision made on an empty stomach, I pulled in to an almost empty parking lot and found a spot right by the elevator/store entrance. It was a cozy spot, between a vintage, mustard-colored Mustang and a concrete pillar. Like the cars in the parking lot, the shoppers were few and far between. But I did notice one guy, sort of scruffy-looking, smiling-kind-of-but-not-really, seemingly less hungry but more deliberate in his shopping than me. (He glided along with wide strides, while I tersely placed item after unreasonable item in my basket.) I thought he looked familiar, or peculiar, but was too hungry and tired to think about it too long.

The next time I saw him was at the register. I picked the very last one by the door, because it seemed the shortest, and when I got there, there he was, placing his basket on the counter for the cashier. I was behind him. Great, I thought, I can get out of here. Two minutes later I realized I was still standing there. Great, I thought. How do I pick the shortest line and it ends up taking the longest? The story of my life is the story of being fooled. And so on and so forth, and he chatted with the cashier and when he smiled at him he kind of looked like Nicholas Cage in profile. But I didn’t really care because I was tired and the more the guy and the cashier chatted the more annoyed I got. Until, finally, he was gone and it was my turn and the cashier helped me hoist my basket onto the counter.

That made me feel good, because I didn’t want to lift anything again for the rest of my life at that point, and I smiled at him and he smiled back and asked if I knew that man who was just here. He was at once serious and amused, like one of those people who get really excited to tell you they saw a celebrity, so I thought to myself, was that really Nicholas Cage? No, it wasn’t, and the cashier asked me again if I knew him and I said no I didn’t, why, should I know him? Well, because he just left twenty dollars towards your groceries, he said, and held up a twenty dollar bill. For a good five seconds I stood there legitimately debating what my reaction should be because for sure I was on some sort of reality show where they play jokes on people and my reaction would be scrutinized for imperfections or stereotypical behavior. Wow, I said, when I realized this was not the case. What should I do? You should take it, said the cashier.

OK, so according to the cashier, the guy thought I was pretty and wanted to pay for my groceries. I guess it’s not an act of total kindness. But I saw it as that. After the workday I’d just had, or any workday in general, having someone make you feel in any way special is an act of kindness, regardless of the motivation. So I smiled and said I’d take it, and then the cashier started to worry. Well, that is very nice, but if you don’t know him, you never know he could be a crazy person and well, would you object to me walking you to your car?  OK, wow, I’d never thought of that. Do you really think that could be the case? Well, I don’t know but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. Let me just go ask my manager if it’s OK.

So the cashier goes to ask his manager and from across the store I see the manager look at me and start to walk over. Then the manager now talks to me about it. Well, it is a very nice thing to have happen, but this is Hollywood and we get a lot of crazy people around here, you know? And we all laugh, but this makes the other cashier and some other customers nearby turn to look at us. And then they keep looking at us as the manager holds up the twenty dollar bill. He has someone else ring me up and the cashier is bagging my groceries and recounting the event and this has everyone interested.

He walks me to my car, carrying my bags. As he loads them into my car, there are now two girls sitting inside the vintage Mustang and they turn to look at me and my personal bag man. I feel even more awkward at this point because there are only two bags to carry and I’m not used to delegating tasks like that and I know they’re wondering why I’m not capable of carrying two grocery bags. After giving some last-minute cautionary advice, (don’t get out of the car in the parking lot), the cashier waves goodbye and walks back to the store. I’m in my car ready to pull out of the spot and I’m so flustered by the whole thing, I can feel the two girls staring at me, that I forget to look to my left and slam the car into the concrete pillar on that side. As I pull forward to get unstuck, the car scrapes against it and makes a scraping noise. Now the two girls are staring and pointing, and from nowhere in particular there’s the cashier again, waving at me for attention.

He runs up to the car and I roll down the window. I scraped my car, I say, frantically, overwhelmed. What, he asks, and rubs his hand on it. Oh, don’t worry. It comes right off. (It didn’t. He was just trying to make me feel better.) Make sure no one follows you, he says. If you think you’re being followed, pull into a gas station, OK?

I thank him and drive off. As I circle the parking lot for the exit, I remember my unexpected benefactor’s ambiguous smile and ask myself: was it giddy shyness, or did he know what was bound to happen.

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ANDRA MOLDAV lives and works in Los Angeles. Before that, she was a grad student in New York. Among other things, she writes stories about foreign people in strange lands.

9 responses to “Random Act of Kindness Avalanche”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Have you ever read The Dice Man, Andra?

    There’s a section where he tries to a) beg money and b) give money to other people.

    He says the second is harder.

    I could believe that very easily.

    And I hate that fucking sound of car scraping on concrete.

    • Andra Moldav says:

      I have not read The Dice Man, but I can understand what he means. Oddly enough it probably would’ve been easier on me had the guy asked me for twenty bucks. This should not mean, however, that I no longer welcome random acts of kindness.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    ‘The story of my life is the story of being fooled.’ – great line.
    Isn’t it strange how a random act of kindness is now looked upon as suspicious? This saddens me.
    In New Zealand, we have an official ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ day and it’s so great to see people doing nice things for strangers. I just wish it were everyday.
    Sorry about the car. That’s a major suckeroo.

    • Andra Moldav says:

      Maybe the mechanic will will extend a random act of kindness too.
      No, now that’s just being greedy.
      Having an official day for this sort of thing is a good idea, I think. Though, is it like Kris Kringle here, where you have a price cap on what you can give?

  3. Dana says:

    Ouch! Funny, in a crappy kind of way. You’ll never forget him, will you? Also, I wonder about your next trip to Trader Joe’s. Do you now have a relationship with the cashier? A level of familiarity, if you will. He may begin to scrutinize your purchases…

    Yesterday morning I was at the pharmacy, strolling with purpose to the pick up area at the back of the store (tricky ones, pharmacists) and just exactly as I emerged from the end of the aisle to the RX area, a youngish man stepped from the aisle adjacent. We both kind of smiled awkwardly. There were two elderly people in line in front of us. As they shuffled forward, we both indicated that the other should take the next place in line. We chuckled and then I insisted that he go first. “Really? No one ever does that. Thank you!”, all delivered with a big smile. So simple, yet so pleasant.

    • Andra Moldav says:

      I don’t know about a friendship with the cashier. It feels like all we have is that one experience, and then if we see each other again, we’d run out of things to say.
      That was nice of you to do at the pharmacy. I wonder more and more what inspires people to be nice. I think it must be happiness.

  4. Ben Loory says:

    i like how you present your experiences without explaining them away; it makes your stories stick around in my brain. you respect the essential mystery of life; it’s nice.

    (even if it’s a pain in the ass.)

  5. Ben Loory says:

    p.s. i’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again: i’m really glad i’m not a girl.

  6. Andra Moldav says:

    Yes, the mystery of life is a pain in the ass.
    And yes, sometimes being a girl does suck. (I’m not saying all the time, but sometimes.) I really should start those jujitsu classes I’ve been thinking about.

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