A desk, a decision

A few days ago, I bit the bullet and purchased a rolling computer desk at Staples.  It was a somewhat involved transaction with my turning in a hoard of used ink cartridges and redeeming a coupon I had received in the mail, to offset the cost of myriad small items plus the desk in a very heavy box in the cart, which the cashier said I did not have to take out. Eventually, I got rung up and navigated the keypad with my rewards card number and credit card. My total seemed a little lower than I expected, but since my Lyme disease, I can no longer do math in my head, so I tried to sort out my mistake as the cashier bagged my items, and couldn’t.  As I rolled my cart out of the store, I tried to let go of the mental math, and couldn’t.

I stopped just outside the doors, on the sidewalk with my cart, to scrutinize my receipt. I scanned up and down the receipt looking for what was missing, first by the unintelligible product descriptions, and then by the amounts charged. The only big ticket items were boxes of printer ink. I realized, it was not that my total was a little low; it was that the subtotal for everything but the desk was much higher than I had expected, and the desk was totally not there.

A number of thoughts occurred practically simultaneously, as if thoughts could run through my mind playing crack-the-whip:  “I’m outside the store and it’s their mistake,” holding tight to a disingenuous “maybe it’s there and I should go home and check the receipt more carefully,” alongside “there are eight items on the receipt and the desk is not there,” and “but I’m kind of in a hurry,” and the final thought “well, not really, but I could have been” seeming to spin away into oblivion.  The novelty of indecision in a situation like this jolted me out of my mental morass. I am a mom who has modeled honesty for her children at every opportunity.  I thought, what the hell is going on with me – money is tight, there are no witnesses, and I suddenly have no moral compass???

To top it off, a number of things made this random cashier error seem weirdly significant:

1. Just as I was walking past a closed register, a cashier had arrived to open it and announced he would help “the next person” in the really long line at the only other open cashier. I hung back as a person from the existing line walked over and stepped in front of me up to the register. No one else in the really long line made a move, and I said to them, “I know you all were here before me. Do you want to go ahead of me?” Most did not respond; the ones who looked up all shook their heads. Not a big deal, but seemed a little unusual to me.

2. I noticed that by a freakish coincidence, my cashier resembled Don Cheadle, the actor who played the angel in the movie Family Man. Great movie. We see the character playing a man trying to get service from a cashier, and later in the movie, as a cashier himself. When people did not do the right thing in this movie, you had to think, “No, no, no, you small-thinking, small-hearted human beings.” I thought that anyway. At the movie. And at myself standing outside Staples.

So I wheeled the cart back in. The cashier had disappeared, and there was again the one lone open register. I did not want to make a big deal by going to the manager, so I scanned the front of the store and saw my cashier walking toward the back of the store down one of the aisles. I called, “Sir, sir!” He looked up and I waved my receipt and said, “Could you just help me understand this?”  Once he walked over, I said quietly, “I don’t see the desk — did you charge me for the desk?” He looked over the receipt, said slowly, “No, I didn’t. I can do that now.”

As he opened the same register and rung me up again, he looked very solemn. I wondered if he had been going on break and was not happy that my coming back in had delayed him. I said lightly, “Do you think I’m crazy for coming back in?” He looked up from the cash drawer and said, “No, it’s great that you came back. People think they save money sometimes, but everything costs you; later you lose much more.” I took this to mean he believes that what goes around comes around, there is karma, everyone gets back what they give out, which made me think that he did not so much mind coming back to ring me out again.

I try to remember things like this when I feel like I don’t know what I am doing as a mom.  I try to remember that even when no one is looking, I try to do the right thing.  That has to count for something.

Epilogue:  I set up the new desk in the dining room, with the newish flat screen monitor.  I took a day to get the stuff on my old desk in another room sorted out, in preparation for moving my desktop computer tower to the new desk in the dining room.  Apparently the monitor and desk were not just sitting there in the dining room waiting for me.  They were calling out to my son.  He asked me if he could put his laptop on the new desk and hook it up to the new monitor, and I said yes.

That was the beginning of getting him out of his room to hang out with the family more.  So what if I still work at my old desk with a behemoth of a CRT monitor.  So what if his idea of hanging out is to be playing Minecraft on his laptop while he listens to the Food Network on the TV in the adjoining room.  So what if I will never know for sure that this truly is my reward.  So what if I could never know that a desk one walked away with without paying for could never have called forth this beautiful result.  I feel blessed knowing that just as crap and bad things happen every day, small yet wondrous things happen every day too, and it’s okay not to know why for sure, but it’s also okay to think that maybe the small things we do, they matter.

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April 28, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized.

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