He was loading my grocery bags. I’ll call him Michael. He was early twenties, wearing an apron. He has Down syndrome.
“How are you today?” he said.
“Pretty good,” said I.
“So am I!” he said. “I’m doing pretty good, too!”
I smiled. “How about that.”
The cashier was dutifully scanning my groceries, sliding them into the bagging area. Michael was loading my plastic bag slowly. And I mean extremely slowly.
One. Item. At. A. Time.
He was an artist. He packed my first bag like it was going into the Smithsonian.
“I’m trying to load it just right,” Michael said. “I’m supposed to take my time bagging. My manager said not to hurry. I used to rush it. But now I don’t rush it anymore. I go slow. Really slow. Like this.”
He placed a box of Cheez-Its into a bag so gently he might as well have been handling a live grenade.
Eventually, we were standing around waiting on him to finish bagging. I had already paid, but Michael was still packing my first bag, moving at about the same pace as law school.
The bagging area was still brimming with groceries and there was a long line of customers accumulating in the checkout lane behind us, wearing aggravated looks on their pinched and sour faces.
There are two kinds of people in this world, those who slow down when they see a yellow light, and those who speed up. These customers were the latter.
The cashier asked Michael if he wanted help bagging to speed things up.
“No, thank you,” he said, placing toothpaste into the bag carefully. “I’m good.”
“But people are waiting,” the cashier said.
So Michael took a moment to smile and wave at everyone.
After what seemed like four or five presidential administrations he finished loading my first bag. He placed the bag into my cart. “There!” he announced, dusting his hands.
One bag down. Fifty to go.
The cashier said, “Michael, there’s a long line waiting, we need to hurry.”
“I can’t hurry,” said Michael. “We’re NOT supposed to hurry. We don’t rush. That’s what the manager told me. Never rush it. ‘Don’t rush it, Michael,’ that’s what he told me. So I’m not rushing it. You go ask him, that’s what he’ll say to you. Don’t rush it.”
“Last time I rushed it I got in trouble, and I’m not getting in trouble again, so I’m not gonna rush it, I’m gonna…”
“Okay, okay,” she said.
So she flipped on her aisle light, which began to blink. She told the shoppers to find another checkout lane. This was going to take a while.
The disgruntled customers shot their disgusted glares in our direction.
And thus it was, we watched a master at work. My bags were the most meticulously, well-crafted, perfectly packed grocery bags in the Twenty-Second State. He placed each bag into my cart one at a time.
When Michael finally finished he asked if I wanted help out to my car. At first, I was going to say no thank you, but I figured, why not? It’s not every day you meet a craftsman who takes pride in his work.
“Sure,” I said.
Michael pushed my cart out to the parking lot and we talked. I learned a lot about him.
He told me that he loves this job because it is fun. He told me he has a cat who is crazy but also fun. He told me about how he is going to save up money to buy professional sound equipment so that he can be a wedding DJ someday because DJs are super fun. He likes rap music, which can be fun if they don’t cuss too much.
He likes chicken. He likes Jolly Ranchers. He likes it when everyone sings together before baseball games, which is fun. His favorite sport is baseball because it’s also fun. But then so is soccer. And come to think of it, pretty much all the other sports, too.
He also has a new phone, which he showed to me. The screen’s background was a picture of himself posing with a woman who I assume is his mother. They were hugging each other and laughing in the photo.
“Is that your mom?” I said.
“Oh, yes,” he said.
“What’s she like?”
He stared at the screen. “She is really pretty.”
Michael helped me load groceries into my truck and treated my bags with his trademarked tenderness. Before we left each other’s company we shook hands, I asked him to give me some parting words before I drove away.
He pointed a finger at me and said, “Don’t rush it.”
An artist, I tell you.