I did not plan on playing interpreter between an irritable elderly customer in a Walmart scooter and a kind Dunkin’ Donuts employee from India whose patience appeared to be thinning. But there I stood, head swinging to and fro, enjoying my unexpected duties.
I immediately noticed the kerfuffle when I walked into Dunkin Donuts. In addition to the lady’s elevated voice, the eyes of the customers at the tables indicated things were heating up at the cash register. They were glancing at the drama, averting their eyes, then peeking back. High calorie processed donuts were not their only guilty pleasure that morning.
The elderly lady bawled, as she pointed her finger at a picture on the wall, “BAGEL! I said, BAGEL!” Her finger jabbed in rhythm with the syllables of BA-GEL!
In sharp contrast, the employee responded calmly, robotically almost, his respectful tone most likely a professionally and culturally-obligated one at this point: “Yes, bacon. We have bacon, ma’am. Plenty of bacon if you wish.” It was evident this was not their first exchange.
Ah, a simple miscommunication, I thought. Bacon. Bagel. Lost in translation. I got this. And so I went in to assist, uninvited.
The entire transaction, I’m happy to report, was cleared up inside a minute. I was their new best friend, uninvited as I was. Some direct eye contact, a few hand gestures, and a smiling face was all that was needed to dissipate the mounting stress and confusion. We soon got on with her order and, consequently, I got closer to that new Boston crème croissant—the reason, so I thought, I stepped into Dunkin Donuts and between these two unintentional antagonists.
After my interpretive task was fulfilled I silently took sides with the DD employee. She continued to grouse at the fellow after he began preparing her bagel. She even complained about the four cents she had to claw around for.
“$4.04?! Where’d you get the four cents?!” she huffed.
She then jerked another dollar out of her purse and threw it on the counter in what could only be taken as a rude gesture. All that irascibility was not enough for her, though—she then grumbled about the spare change she would get back. There is an endearing way to be cranky, I thought, and you are certainly not nailing it.
He won the day when he gave back the dollar she threw on the counter: “My gift for you, ma’am. Don’t worry about the four cents.” His gesture made her grunt something under her breath and look away. His measured response was like burning coals upon her head. Killing her with kindness. Well-played, sir!
When I finally got to sit down and savor the new Boston crème croissant within earshot of Crankiness-On-Wheels (who was still complaining, by the way, this time while eating her BA-GEL!), I glanced at the man behind the counter. I wondered why I didn’t idly stand in line and let them muddle through it all. I’m incurably curious about things, too many things, probably, so I tried to identify how and why I did something nice for these strangers. Was it enlightened self-interest? I wanted that new Boston crème croissant and the boggled transaction was holding up the line. Do a good deed, wait less time for a yummy pastry. Motivation rooted in sheer, visceral sustenance is understandable: Food, there. Belly, here. Remove all barriers between.
Maybe I liked the idea of tackling an unexpected challenge, on the spot? Hey, look at this! I dabble in south-central Pennsylvania Dutchified English. I’ve also chatted with that nice man. This’ll be fun. Game on! I do enjoy overcoming small, spur-of-the-moment challenges.
It was most likely an urge to be useful through fulfilling the needs of others. People seem to find satisfaction through identifying the needs of others and seeing their efforts help fulfill those needs, so they seek pleasure through fulfilling the needs of others. I am not trying to portray the act of facilitating a cheesy ham croissant to an irascible old crank and relieving a kind man of his professionally-obligated stress of delivering said cheesy ham croissant as some laudable act of charity. On the contrary. It was not altruistic—it was a self-serving act of fulfilling a need to be useful. I could not find altruism—an act of complete selflessness—anywhere in my the occurrence.
They needed something. I needed some things. I helped. Everyone ended up (relatively) happy, so the deed was “good”. It was all good.
Like that decadent Boston creme croissant. Or a cheesy ham BA-GEL!