You walked up on me

My wife’s van battery died, so I pulled the battery there in the high school parking lot, and schlepped the dead cells back to Walmart and was proud of myself that I’d kept the receipt from nearly two years ago in the glove box.

When I arrived at Walmart just after 8 am, mechanics were busy and no one was at the counter in the automotive department. An associate nearby stocked shelves and hollered over, asking if I needed help. I understood him to say someone was coming, and he went back to his stocking.

I waited a while and he came around again.

“You need something?”

“Yeah, my battery’s dead, I have the receipt and it’s under warranty.”

“Right, but are you going to get a battery?” the associate asked, standing next to the new batteries and pointing.

“Yes, but don’t you need to test the old one or something?” I asked. I don’t know why I didn’t just go over and pick up the new battery, but we sort of had a standoff.

Then I walked over and showed the associate my receipt and he sighed and went over to get my old battery to test it.

I didn’t really know what was happening, why either one of us chose to be difficult, but I said, “You having a rough morning or something?”

“I’m having a fine morning, sir,” the associate said. He paused, then said, “Then you walked up on me.”

I was thinking, Walked up on me? What does that mean? I came over to him with the receipt, maybe he was saying I got in his bubble. 

“Wait a second, what?” I said.

“You walked up on me,” he said, and he started to elaborate as he walked around getting the battery tester.

“Whoa, time out,” I said. “Can we start over here.”

“You walked up–”

“Time out!” I raised my voice a notch. I was about to ask for a manager, but had I done that–I later learned–he was the automotive manager.

“Look, I’ll say ‘start over,’ then you say ‘start over,’ how’s that? Nothing else about it from either one of us, I don’t even know what happened,” I said. “OK, I’m starting over.”

The associate stopped what he was doing, then said, “Start over.”

We both got quiet, while he tested the dead battery. It was no good, and I would get a new battery for Jill’s van free. I was happy with that, but the product was never the issue.

“Sometimes we have to do this at home, you know, call time out, start over,” I said.

The associate stopped, looked at me. “Are you a Christian,” the man asked.

“Yes, are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m sorry if I was not acting like a Christian there,” I said.

“Look, we’re men, we bow up when someone walks up on us.”

Then I realized, I had marched over to him when he was trying to stock shelves, trying to show him my receipt, not getting my own battery. I don’t know why I didn’t just get my own battery from the shelf.  Since when was Walmart a General Store with Mr. Finnegan pulling dry goods from behind the counter for me? But in my stubbornness, I expected him to do something, so the associate went over and got the right battery, then he explained how Walmart put in an expensive computer that looks up batteries directly for the customer, and Walmart wants associates to encourage customers to use that expensive computer and get their own batteries.

OK, now I was understanding. I aggressively walked up on the man. I was supposed to get my own battery. I got it. He said in this day and time you never really know what people are doing when they walk up on you. I guess walking up on someone means walking up too aggressively and getting too much in their space and face, in their bubble as I suppose they say in school these days. I wasn’t really upset, wasn’t really thinking anything but trying to explain my situation, but I learned something about myself. I can think I’m acting appropriately but actually not be.

We talked a while about family, he said he’d moved from another state, had recently divorced, had no family in the area. We shook hands, exchanged names, and exchanged knowing glances that we’d had a real human moment at Walmart. He said he gets all kinds in here, so he just never knows at first what a person’s doing when they walk up on him, so in this day and age, he has to remain cautious.

I don’t think it’s a “this day and age thing.” Walking up and being too aggressive or threatening to someone is not a new concept for customers and employees in modern stores. Confrontations happened in ancient markets and through the ages. And many men could go their ways angry, blood boiling, hating humanity more, but all the same I now understand better.

I left with a free battery, and my new friend advised me about the warranty, wished me a good day, smiled, and said goodbye. My heart was not pumping from fight or flight but from the knowledge that I’d just experience a human moment in a place that deals in consumer goods mostly, but occasionally great things happen there, in the automotive section of Walmart.

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