I looked up to see the Old Hand smiling at me. The Old hand was decked out in his black Kroger’s apron, khaki hat and white shirt festooned with a tasteful number of spirit buttons and pins. In his hand he held a customized Kroger’s coffee cup steaming with bubbling black java perfection.
“Yo, Old Hand, you’re looking pretty relaxed, there. Are you on break?”
“I’ve never been on break my whole life, but I try to look relaxed,” he replied.
I pondered that for a few moments, massaging the avocado into a slimy, green pulp.
“Better get some chips,” I scoffed and gave the Old Hand a wry look.
“So, Sackmeister, my intuition tells me that you are somewhat disturbed, that is, more than usual. Flummoxed. Perplexed. Distracted. And, in other words, at a loss. What’s up?”
I looked up at the Old Hand. Where does this guy come from, I wondered? Always there when you need him; least expected.
The Old Hand took a pull on his coffee and let out a satisfied sigh.
Father, forgive me for I have sinned…
“I may be over my head,” I confessed. “You see, I arranged this meeting mostly on bravado and show and now, well, it’s really happening. It’s special, well, to me. And…”
I trailed off. And what? And maybe I oversold the situation? Maybe I’m not good enough? Maybe I’ll fall short and be a disappointment? I didn’t know. Yes, no, yes, no! Such anticipation!
I picked up another avocado and subjected it to the Grip of Death.
The Old Hand looked relaxed and sipped his coffee.
I asked, “Have you ever had doubts? You know, a customer shows up at the check out with some strange fruit and the charge code has fallen off and you can’t tell if it’s a Star Fruit or an Office 12 Fruit, but you have to make the call. What do you do?”
The Old Hand pursed his lips and stared at the avocado I was torturing in my hand. Finally, he spoke.
“Yes,” he said in a low voice, “I’ve had doubts. I’ve been in that situation where I can’t recall if it’s a South American Dog Chili or a South African Dog Chili. All I know is that it’s a chili and it’s from the South, so I split the difference. But, I do it fast and I do it with confidence.”
“But, what if you don’t get it right,” I pressed, “doesn’t that matter?”
The Old Hand smiled and I perceived a golden halo forming around his brow.
“Not really. What matters is the connection with the customer. If the customer is delighted, and when you’re a checker fast is good, then you’ve succeeded. Connection. You got close, and you got the customer on his way and everybody is happy.”
“What about expectations? Disappointment is such a harsh mistress.”
The Old Hand drained his cup, stared at the dripping green mass of squashed avocado in my hand and lost himself in thought.
He looked up after a moment or two and said “You know, the great philosopher Popeye said it best:
I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.
“It’s trite but the best course of action is to be yourself because that’s who you are. You’re not Robin Williams. You’re not Flip Wilson. You’re not Bill Cosby. You’re the Sackmeister.”
The Old Hand walked to the back of the store stopping short of the swinging doors labeled “Employees Only.”
He turned around, looked me in the eye and said “Be all that you can be, but be yourself.” The doors swung shut behind him.
“Be yourself,” I thought. I was hoping for something easier.
I looked at the remains of the avocado in my hand. Not ripe enough, I thought, not nearly ripe enough. It was all I had.