Consider the Popsicle
Rebecca considers the popsicles. All her opening and closing of doors in the frozen desserts aisle has left the freezers curtained with condensation.
“I’m ruining your view,” she tells a young woman in a store vest. The girl has had to to open several of the doors to check the contents. “It’s hard enough to pick up a pint of double chocolate even when you know exactly where it is.”
“Not really,” says the girl, with a grin. “See, you just stick your hand in like this, and pick up the carton behind the gross one in the front that everyone’s touched.”
“My hands are clean,” Rebecca says. She wonders why she’s explaining herself to the girl, but this aisle makes her hungry for company. (She’s trained herself to eat sugar only socially, and only after noon.)
Rebecca squints to read the girl’s name tag before she disappears into the freezer again. (She learned in a business networking class that you should use people’s names every time you talk to them.) “I’m picking up the boxes to check the nutrition label. I have this app that tracks all the info, Shreena.”
At the sound of her name, the girl resurfaces from the pit of store brand vanilla gallons. “Sounds like a pain,” she says. “If I were you, I’d rather be fat.”
Rebecca, who’s managed to lose 30 pounds in six months, can’t believe what she just heard. She wonders whether it’s worth networking with a juvenile. She decides to give the girl a chance to correct her gaffe. (She’s recalled another networking mantra—you never know who might be useful.) “Did you say I’m fat?”
“No, I meant get fat, not stay fat.”
Rebecca hates that she’s always imagining insults. (The networking instructor recommends not apologizing, but changing the subject instead.) She notices that, after going through each shelf, the girl marks her arm with a marker she keeps behind her ear. “That’s toxic, Shreena,” she says. “Why don’t you use paper?”
“I’d have to hold it in my mouth while I count,” Shreena says, chuckling. “Then I’d be eating crap instead.”
Rebecca’s mind races for another subject.
“What’re you looking for?” Shreena asks, saving her. “I could check in the back.”
“Dairy’s too much cholesterol,” Rebecca tells the girl. “But if you don’t get the fat, Shreena, you probably get the sugar. My mother had diabetes and died of a heart attack.”
“If you want just ice, it’s by the checkout,” says the girl. After a beat, she laughs at her own joke.
Rebecca can’t recall the optimal networking protocol for when you’re not sure if a person is laughing at you, or with you. The girl’s laugh is infectious, so Rebecca lets herself laugh with her. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. (Rebecca’s father, who died years before the networking class, had that engraved on his headstone.)
“I think I’ll swing by the check out counter,” she tells Shreena.