I was robbed in Dollar Tree yesterday by a very bad smelling homeless guy.
You should know this first—it was my own fault. After all, I was at the Dollar Tree at the ‘bad Wal-mart,’ the Wal-mart known for rape and murder in the parking lot. I set myself up to be victimized. So don’t pity me—too much.
As I scrounged along the back wall for cleaning supplies, a man brushed by me pushing a shopping cart in a semi-reckless manner. His more notable offense, however, was the smell left in his wake, the sordid odor of too many days without deodorant and toilet paper and even longer of being without a bath. As he passed, I smiled, failing to connect the ideas—bad Walmart+bad smell=potentially bad person (although somewhere in that syllogism might be some faulty logic.)
After gathering paper towels and a bottle of ‘Window’ cleaner cleverly labeled to look like the real ‘Windex,’ I went in search of rubber gloves. I turned the corner just in time to see a trail of socks lying in the aisle, and yet another pair which appeared to have just tumbled out of the stinky man’s cart. What happened in the next second (which all makes sense to me now that I can replay it in slow motion) saved me the embarrassment of stopping the man to inform him of his sock trail.
When a manager started walking toward him, I heard the man ask her where he could find some other item, as if he had a shopping list like any ordinary shopping citizen.
But the manager disregarded the inquiry and with hands on her hips, stated in no discreet tone, “Sir, I need you to take the socks out of your pants.”
“Out of my pants?” he asked, feigning innocence, his guilt becoming as apparent as his smell.
Without parleying with him further, she reached into the front of his pants to grab the hidden socks. “You come in here again, and I’ll have you arrested.” She yelled as he abandoned his decoy cart and charged out of the store.
I hoped that he wouldn’t come back with a gun. But that fear was quickly suppressed with the rationale that if he didn’t have money for socks, he wouldn’t have money for a gun.
After reasoning away the fear, however, deeper emotions immerged—vulnerability and violation. Continuing to peruse the aisles, I felt exposed, as if my eyes had been opened to another side of humanity, a side that I had heard of, seen on TV, but never witnessed so close as to fill my nostrils with its stench, and so close for me to have smiled at.
The man was stealing socks. And, at that, he didn’t even get away with them. You’re probably rolling your eyes at my naivety, at my innocence.
But he made off with something more valuable than socks. He took with him a part of my trust. He robbed me of a part of my security.
On the verge of tears, I wished to be held, to be protected from what else in life will betray my trust. I wished to be assured that I shouldn’t stop offering smiles rather than cynicism and suspicion, kindness rather than condemnation. I wished that people, at their core, were truly good as I often hope for them to be. And even in this, perhaps, his crime was my own fault, for ever trusting my fellow human to begin with; for having a heart that truly wants to believe that we’re a happy family; for thinking that the crimes I see on TV are committed by some life form other than my own.
Maybe I should thank him for helping me put my guard up a little higher, for helping me to exercise wariness and sharpen my suspicion.
But thinking back on it now, before the fear, before the vulnerability, the most significant thought that I had somewhere between her digging the socks out of his pants and him charging out the front door was, “Man, I hope she washes those socks before she puts them back on the shelf.”