Scene I: Hemlock Gorge.
Players: Older man with his grey-whiskered pug. As is often the case, man and dog look alike. They have parked themselves at the side of the path to let us pass. You’d be surprised how many people do not do this. Courtesy made visible. Man is on his phone.
Important detail? Man speaks with an accent. I can’t identify it. Eastern European, maybe, but not Russian or Ukrainian. In my imagination, he is speaking to someone in another country and he is trying to explain the inexplicable, that is, life in America today.
“It’s amazing,” he starts. “There was an insurrection. It was filmed up and down and still people support him.”
It was filmed up and down and still people support him.
Scene II: checkout at Wegman’s supermarket.
Actors: Two young women working adjacent registers.
Important detail: they are both attractive with the blush and confidence of youth.
Unimportant details: one is Black and the other Latina.
Black woman: “He followed me around the store. I kept turning and asking him, Can I help you? And he kept coming. Can I help you? I kept asking. He was old, like 40 or something. Really old. He asked me for my name. I’m good, I told him. He kept coming. I looked at him and said, You’re old! He asked for my Instagram account and I told him my boyfriend has a temper.”
Latina woman about some other man: “I was wearing a blanket, I mean I was completely covered. And still he came at me. A blanket!”
Black woman, to me, perhaps by way of acknowledging that employees aren’t supposed to indulge in quite so much talk across a customer’s basket: “I’m sorry.”
She apologized to me!
It wasn’t one of those situations where I could have feigned not listening. So I said something, not just to let her know that no apology was needed but to emphatically support their indignation.
I told the Black woman she could have accused the man not just of being old but also of being a fucking creep. To the other I said it never mattered what she wore. Ever.
The Black woman awarded me the “customer of the day” award.
These two exchanges were telling, not just because of how my ongoing, general isolation makes these casual interactions more important than they might otherwise be, but because of what they say about where we find ourselves as Americans — as Americans on a precipitous decline that shows no sign of slowing.