Saintly behavior in our time.

These are difficult times for America. Our citizens are worried about the threat of war, spending their time looking over their shoulders nervously. Every now and then, even in times like these, someone does something that simply warms your heart and restores your faith in humanity. And, every so often, that someone is your very own brother.

My brother, Josh, who lives in San Francisco California, could be described as a free spirit, or his own man, or any of a number of other terms & phrases that denote an individual who is truly that — an individual — free from the constraints of modern social norms and expectations. A marcher to one’s own drummer, as it were.

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Josh prefers to stand on the fringes of society, looking in from an outside perspective, and venturing into and out of social situations only as his own motivations dictate, for reasons known only to him.

It must have been a cold California evening when Josh found himself outside his local Safeway food store. All his fellow shoppers were wearing an assortment of sweaters, jackets, hats, and long pants. The night air had a frosty tinge to it, feathering around his neck and chilling him slightly as he walked, briskly, into the brightly-lit grocery store.

Grateful for the warmer temperatures and the pleasant smells of the clean store, Josh paused for a moment just inside the now-closed doors which effectively shut out the chilly night air, to take it all in. The scent of fresh fruits & vegetables from the produce department over to the right mingled with the pervasive smell of consumer sexuality wafting from the makeup counter and promising popularity, acceptance, and love, directly ahead. The smell of coffee and disinfectant. The different textures and colors of the products on shelves. The tinny-sounding piped-in music over hidden speakers in the ceiling, competing against the hum of the refrigeration units.

Drawing a deep breath, Josh mentally reviewed his grocery list. “Beer, Doritos, razors, salsa, and some cheese”, and his shopping plan is set: Go down aisle 12, grab the Doritos and salsa, take a quick left up aisle 7 for the razors, then head toward the dairy section to get the cheese. A quick stop on the way to the cash register to grab the beer, and he’d be out of the store in a moment. The beer wouldn’t even have time to warm up.

His plan thought out, Josh walked through the store toward aisle 12. He smiled at the squeaking sound his sneakers make on the tile floor. That sound always made him smile. It reminded him of basketball. Suddenly, in his mind, he’s a basketball player, considerably taller, thinner, and quicker. Josh played a mental game with the other shoppers in the store. “He banks right, avoids the trap, then zooms left — barely missing the cart at mid-court — Josh reaches for the Doritos — he snags, and BASKET! TWO POINTS! THE CROWD GOES WILD!”. The crinkly bag of cheesy snacks landed in the handy shopping basket on his arm, and a satisfied smile crossed Josh’s face. Salsa followed quickly, then it’s up aisle 7. A few precious moments passed while Josh sought his favorite brand of razors. Once found, though, he moved deliberately toward the dairy case, thinking, “Just a couple more minutes, and I am homeward bound!”.

Josh rounded the corner into the dairy aisle, and his eyes were met with a most unusual sight. There, facing the yogurt drinks was a small figure in dark clothes and hat. Looking at the back of the hunched figure, the word “creature” leapt into Josh’s mind. Curious now, Josh paused to examine the figure. A grey wooly cap covered the skull, and from underneath the cap, Josh saw long, straight reddish hair falling down onto a long shapeless black coat. Below the long black coat, Josh saw jeaned legs ending in, of all things, black combat boots. Perhaps it wasn’t the outfit that drew his attention, Josh realized, as he saw the creature repeat the action that attracted his eye in the first place. A thin hand extended from the sleeve of the coat, touching, almost caressing, a carton of Strawberry “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurt. The carton was held gently for a moment before it was returned to the dairy case’s shelf, tipped over. Examining the thin hand as it moved, Josh thought, “That’s a girl’s hand. A young girl’s hand”. Amazed now, Josh watched as the hand selected another carton, this time a Bananna yogurt, held it for a tender moment, then turned upside-down and placed back on the shelf.

Before he realized his actions, Josh walked over nearer to her with the idea of getting a glimpse of her face. “Be subtle… Don’t let her know you’re looking at her,” he thought as he quietly stepped nearer to the refrigerated case. The thin hands continued their work, apparently taking no notice of Josh’s presence. Out of the corner of his eye, Josh tried to peek at the woman while perusing the yogurt selection. Her face was obscured by the hat and her hair. Frustrated but undeterred, Josh reached his hand toward one of the tipped containers of yogurt. As his hand drew closer to the upended carton, the woman suddenly froze, virtually bristling with attention, one rhumey eye following the progress of Josh’s hand toward her handiwork.

Josh’s hand touched the carton. It was Blueberry-Bananna.

“Leave it,” came a crackling voice that sounded like crows frightened from a hedge. “Leave it and walk away”. Josh, surprised by the sudden sound, turned to face the hunched and still motionless figure. “Did you say something to me?,” Josh asked the woman. No reply, other than the darting of her eye, watching Josh. Maybe sizing him up. A small part of Josh’s mind wondered if the woman decided that he was an easy target or not. “Excuse me. Did you say something to me?,” he asked again, more pointedly.

An abrupt tap on Josh’s shoulder startled him. The crow-voice spoke again, and Josh turned his head away from the woman to find a wizend old man, wearing the familiar red vest of a Safeway employee. The old man peered at Josh over thick glasses. “Didn’t you hear me, young man? Leave it and walk away.”

“But… but…,” Josh stammered, one hand pointing back toward the woman’s now-resumed efforts to overturn all the yogurt containers in the dairy case. “I know,” said the old Safeway employee, “that’s Polly Tipover. She comes in here from time to time and does this. No one knows where she lives or why she does this. But, trust me,” the old man pointed a crooked finger at Josh, “she wants to do her work without being disturbed. So. Just leave it. And walk away.”

Josh was halfway home before he realized that he’d forgotten to buy his beer. Now he’d have to go back. “On second thought, maybe I’ll just stop at the 7-11.”

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