I have a favorite red shirt, and I tend to like khaki trousers, but I have learned the hard way not to wear this outfit to Market Basket, because people think you work there, and they ask you where things are.
I never gave much thought to the Market Basket employees’ standard uniform — the workers always look nice, they’re neat and clean, and I was vaguely aware that they all wear the same thing; but I couldn’t tell you, without looking, what the colors were — until the day a little old lady touched me near the burger buns.
“Excuse me, young man,” she warbled, “but can you point me to the gouda?”
There were three problems with this question, right off the bat. First of all, I’m not exactly a young man, even by comparison to this old lady. I’m probably at least three-quarters of her age. Maybe even seven-eighths, depending on how recently she Botoxed. Of course, being called a “young man,” I could have received this little gift as sort of a soul-cleansing moment; I’d been mopey ever since I qualified for the senior discount at a museum last week. And yes, her description did make me reflexively break into a schoolboy grin. But still, to call me a “young man” is fundamentally inaccurate, even if it’s intended as flattery. So that was one strike against her.
Second, my hearing isn’t great, and at first I thought she said “Buddha” instead of “gouda.” It took me a long moment to realize she wasn’t on a religious pilgrimage. She was hunting for cheese, not enlightenment. Which reminded me, I needed to go next door to CVS and get hearing aid batteries.
Third problem: I don’t work at Market Basket. I just dress like I do, apparently.
So here I was, standing in the bread aisle at Market Basket, with a little old lady and the three problems she had presented to me — four, if you count the gouda.
In this kind of scenario — there’s a misunderstanding, and you knowit’s a misunderstanding, and you can correctthe misunderstanding, but it’s not that bigof a misunderstanding, so you couldjust sort of go with the misunderstanding — you make all these mental calculations in a split-second. It seems cruel to say “Sorry, I don’t work here,” because after all, you’ve accidentally fooled this person — by way of your red shirt and khaki pants — into thinking you’re an employee. On the other hand, if someone asks a question I don’t have the answer for, and I have to say, “Sorry, I don’t know,” and they think they’re getting this dumb non-answer from a Market Basket employee, it besmirches Market Basket’s reputation, because then this customer thinks Market Basket has employed a loser who doesn’t even know whether we carry unscented super-clumping cat litter and where to find it if we do. Or, as in this case, where to find the gouda.
You’re thinking about it right now, aren’t you? You’re imagining Market Basket, you’re walking yourself up and down the aisles, you’re looking hither and yon for the gouda. Well, it just so happens, I know where the gouda is, and I told the old lady.
But I’m not going to tell you. At least, not until you call me young.
Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, 13,728 feet from the Rowley Market Basket, where he spends an inordinate amount of time giving directions to strangers. Follow the Outsidah by clicking “Follow” on this screen.