“The secret of the creative life is to feel at ease with your own embarrassment.” -Paul Schrader
Because it’s Friday, the weather is beautiful, and I have a long-standing meeting with a close friend, today’s post will be shorter than usual. And also, because I cannot for the life of me think of a new topic for today, I’ll piggy back on the post from yesterday where I wrote about finding humor in our own humiliation. It’s easy (albeit mean) to laugh when others embarrass themselves yet hard to find that lightheartedness when we’re the ones being laughed at. Why is that? In order to explore this idea a little further, I’ll provide another example of finding joy in our moment of social awkwardness and (hopefully) send you off to enjoy your weekend with a smile or a laugh.
I worked as a Guest Service rep for Target during my college years. Every summer, I would come home from school to throw on my red and khaki to toil my days away fending off the “Karens” of Lake County. If I told you I worked there out of love for my team members or the desire for providing quality customer service or even the bi-weekly paycheck, that would be a lie. What really kept the smile on my face while customers (literally and figuratively) spit into it was a single member of the market team. His name was Baby Waters.
Now, his name wasn’t actually Baby Waters: it was Alex, who worked stocking the dairy coolers in Market. Our paths would cross once a shift when he would come to Guest Service to collect re-shop (returned items belonging to his department) to put back out on the floor. He was tall, quiet, and a diligent worker. For two years, our only interaction was a head nod as he filled up his cart and left without a work. At the service desk, we had a grid of all the employees working that day, including their shift times and departments. I’ll admit it: every once in a while, I would horde Market items throughout the morning until Alex would get in. By the start of his shift, his bin would be overflowing. “Alex from Market,” I would say into the walkie-talkie, “can you get your reshop from Guest Service?” His response, a very simple “Yup”, would echo through the store before he would appear and nod at me.
In hindsight, I now realize he probably didn’t like me much, as every time he worked a shift with me at the service desk, there always seemed to be Market re-shop. Alex, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for making you come up so many times but I don’t regret my decisions. It wasn’t long before the front end supervisors got wise to my infatuation with the stoic milk boy. To show their support, they would sneak into market to pull product off the shelves and throw it into my cart. “Alex from Market,” would ring across the store 4 or 5 times during a single shift then. It got to a point where even I realized the work I was doing for a simple head nod was not enough. With a new resolve and encouragement from the front end team, I decided to talk to him and called him to the Service desk.
When he got there and our ritual nod had ended, I stepped toward him and smiled wide. “Thanks for coming,” I said, gesturing around to the empty service desk. He nodded, shifting the contents of the cart. “So uh, I just got some baby waters for you here–” our eyes were locked now, my face burning– “you know… water for the babies. Baby waters. They gotta get back to Market,” I rambled on. “For the babies,” I clarified, watching him take a step back. He nodded, politely informed me that the purified nursery water didn’t belong to his department, and then left without another word.
I’d like to tell you I saw the humor in it then and laughed at the situation. I’d like to say I wasn’t mortified when my supervisor popped up from behind the wall, where she had been listening to our entire interaction. And I’d love to tell you that the moment lived and died during that shift or that I hadn’t spoken to him in a extremely bizarre, very bad Brooklyn accent. But I cannot. The memory live in infamy until my last day of Target on Christmas Eve, 2019. It definitely followed Alex, whose was addressed as Baby Waters from that day forward until he quit shortly thereafter. Do I still cringe at the thought of my incoherent ramblings to a handsome man? Do I wince when I imagine his frightened, awkward smile? Why yes, yes I do. But when those feelings fade, I laugh at the fact that it happened and it couldn’t have happened without me.
So stay safe and hopeful. And just an FYI, Target stocks it’s distilled nursery water in the Baby section, not in Market.