Do you know the elderly man who has hooks for hands and is a regular almost everywhere? How about that funny-looking woman always pushing a shopping cart? You know who I'm talking about: the characters in our neighborhoods and lives on whom bestow nicknames. I really don't know who the Hook Man or the Shopping Cart Lady is. Lately, though, I think I may have become one of them.
It all started when I lost my job. Not working gave me much more time for certain daily tasks, such as grocery shopping, running to the corner store for god-knows-what, or walking the dog. Suddenly, I was much more visible in my neighborhood.
I also suffer from a sleep disorder, which doesn't help the cause. I now find myself buying coffee, at the same corner store, at the same time every day, which just so happens to be On the same morning stroll, I stop at a different store across the street and buy cigarettes. Finally, depending on the day of the week, I buy food for my animals at the same pet store.
As I made my rounds today, I began to get the sense that I may have become one of these nicknamed people. Three different times, each at a different location I was recognized by the store employee. First, I got coffee at the usual place. Everyday I ask for a large with cream. I always get the sweet response, "and sugar?" to which I always reply "no." It changed today. Today, it all happened in the normal sequence, but after I said have a great day, the nice lady working the counter replied, "Next time, I'll get it right." I chuckled, not thinking much of it. I did not know her, but she knew me and now knew I didn't take sugar.
My next stop was the tobacco store. There is usually a kind, short woman working there.. She is someone I would recognize because she is so cordial. Today, though, a man I thought I had never seen was working the counter. I greeted him and, without hesitation, he grabbed my usual pack of cigarettes and took my money. He shoved the money into the register without counting it. I had paid with exact change, but it was almost as if the guy knew me and knew I know the price of my brand.
The last stop of my day, since it was that day of the week, was the pet store. It's a frequent visit. At home, I have as a pet a bearded dragon, which feeds on three live crickets a day. Since I can't accommodate more than 15 or they begin to die, I have to make frequent trips to the pet store to buy them.
The employees at the store have, to my knowledge, never shown much interest in the customers let alone show any kind of recognition that the same people kept coming in. Sure enough, today was different. Not only did the man working in the aquatic/reptile section come straight to me to ask if I needed the usual, but he also got the number right on the dot: 15 crickets. For the first time, he even told me to have a great day. Then, the lady at the counter asked for my savings card as if she already knew I had one. It just so happens that I do. It's usually a question, though. Something like, "Do you have a savings card?" Three different stores, but the same experience in each. Now I know that in my neighborhood, I am "one of those guys."
I never found myself to be one who stands out. I'm plain looking and have no features which are very recognizable. So what is my nickname? It doesn't feel right giving it to myself. Has someone already dubbed me? Are you one of those people who have gotten a neighborhood nickname?
It's a funny feeling, but maybe instead of worrying it, I should find comfort in the fact that I am now a familiar face around Port Richmond. I have become part of the fabric of my neighborhood.