Ooh, I just witnessed a beautiful example of emotion work and how it can surprise us!
I’m standing in line at the Target, and I’m three people back from the checker. Everyone is standing around trying not to look bored. I’m studying people like I always do.
The checker is a man in his 50s, slender but rather disheveled, with hair that needs cutting and a bit of a five o-clock shadow starting. I notice when he reaches for bags to complete his current order he’s got dark stains under the arms of his red polo shirt. They’re not wet sweat stains; they’re actually deeply stained from many months of constant wear and improper laundering. I wonder if: 1) He doesn’t have anyone at home to care for him, 2) If the manager has noticed but doesn’t know how to tell him he needs a new shirt, 3) If he doesn’t bother to look at his clothing or himself in the mirror because maybe he’s depressed, 4) If Target employees have to pay for their red shirts. Probably they do.
Now I’m two people back in the line. Yay, it’s moving!! Suddenly, I see that the conveyor belt is moving lingerie toward him: colorful underwear and thongs, and three brightly colored padded bras. I look at the pretty, petite young woman, alone in front of him with her focus on her purse as she prepares to gather her money. Neither the checker nor this young woman know I am watching them (because I’m so sly!).
The man has to touch and unravel each undergarment in order to free the price tag so it will scan. He handles the underwear without much emotion showing on his face, but the young woman looks up a bit from her purse and sees all the underwear passing through his hands. She does not look at his face. Now the bras come to him, each padded into a soft, breast-like shape, and as he handles them, his eyes meet the young woman’s for a split second. Neither of them knows whether to smile about the bright bras, or what. He has entered her private, interior, sexual world, and she knows that he has, and neither of them has a clue about how to proceed.
They look away from each other, and she flushes and looks down. He looks at me because he realizes I’m looking at him, but I quickly turn away so as to protect his dignity. I don’t want him to know he’s being watched. He becomes flustered by the bras and quickly stuffs them into the bags. He does not hand the bags to her; instead, he places them to his left, on his side of the counter. The price rings up, and the two of them manage the most business-like transaction without glancing at each other again. She carefully places her bills on his hand without touching him, and he places her receipt and change on the counter.
When they’re done, he looks immediately to the woman just in front of me and begins ringing up her detergent, two greeting cards, and gum. The young woman has to walk around to the end of the counter and grab her bags of lingerie, but she’s fine with it. She turns and quickly leaves the store.
Yow! The things you see when you’re waiting in line!