I hit the Hollywood Trader Joe’s at least once a week. T.J.’s has deals, like $2.99 for a bottle of drinkable wine or a can of organic beans for $.69. (My family is as organic as a benzene ring.) And the store is on the way home.
One dark, wet, cold evening, I was in my T.J.’s, loading up. Into the shopping cart went deals on two pounds of organic, fair trade coffee for about $12, a couple of chocolate bars for under $2 each, a bunch of (organic) bananas, and a few jars of (organic) tomato sauce.
The store, which is always either busy, or some level of busier than busy, was busier than usual. Carts were jammed in every aisle. Despite the usual friendly efficiency of the employees, eternity gained ground. Lines got snaky long.
At last, my turn came. The cashier rang up $22 and change. I slid my debit card. Tick tick tick -- the moment got snaky long.
“No, it’s not working. Please slide it again.”
I slid it. Tick tick tick.
“I’m sorry, it’s disapproved. Showing insufficient funds. You can try it again, as credit.”
Only midly surprised, I slid it again.
“No, sir. It’s not approving.”
All right. I probably sighed loudly. I asked the cashier if she would keep the bag of groceries at the checkout for a moment. She nodded and turned to the next customer.
I sat down on a kid-size bench kept near the front door. I pulled out my phone and tried to reach my wife to have her move some money over, which would take no time, problem solved. But she didn’t answer.
After a couple of tries, I looked up. A woman I didn’t know was standing there, smiling warmly and fanning some currency at me.
She said, “Here, let me take care of your groceries.”
“No,” I replied politely but with some force. “No thanks. You’re very kind, but I’ve got it handled. Thanks.”
She went away. I tried again to reach my wife, while entertaining resentful thoughts, like “I’ve got a job,” “I’m not at the end of my resources,” and “Do I look like I need a handout?” Again the electronic connection failed to materialize.
There was nothing to do but leave. I zipped up my jacket tooth by tooth, pulled my hat down and adjusted it, over the left ear, over the right ear, took my gloves from my jacket pockets one at a time. But the call did not come.
Then the cashier was coming at me. She had a bag of groceries, which she set down at my feet. I could see my tomato sauce and bananas.
I said, “Did that woman pay for these?”
“Yep. She said to pay it forward.'”
The angel was still at the checkout; I caught her at the door and thanked her.
“Enjoy,” she said pleasantly, without slowing down.
“Do you want to exchange names?” I said,
“No, just pay it forward.”