Sarah R. Callender


In General on April 25, 2011 at 7:23 am

For a long while, I have had a small-yet-mighty crush on one of the NE Seattle Safeway checkers. This particular fellow’s not especially handsome, nor does he give me free produce. Nor did he card me the first time I bought Riesling. Nope, my crush is simply and directly related to his voice. And yes, by the way, Husbandio knows. He knows, and he thinks it’s funny . . . just one of about infinity reasons why I’m so glad I married him.

But let’s get back to the well-voiced checker.

I wish I could post a recording for your listening pleasure, maybe one where he is asking, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” (along with my response: “Why, yes. Yes, I did.”)

But since I think that might be both weird and illegal, I’ll say this: his voice is a vat of warm maple frosting, the kind Top Pot puts on its maple old fashioned donuts. Yes, take that frosting down two octaves, add a shot of bourbon, maybe one-two cups Nat King Cole and there you go. That’s this guy’s voice.

Well, at some point this winter, I happened to be standing in his check-out line, even though there were shorter lines on either side of me, even though waiting in his line meant waiting behind a lady who was using about a thousand coupons and paying with A CHECK.

But that was all right because this lady’s antiquated method of paying for groceries gave me time to think about the importance of compliments.

That sometimes, if you compliment someone on something, jut totally out of the blue, that makes that person feel good, and because he feels good, he may do some very small act of kindness to or for someone else, and then, that person goes on to ripple her goodness and kindness out to someone else, until, before you know it, everyone has put down his AK-47 and her Let’s Kill the Abortion Doctors sign and while we’re not exactly all holding hands, at least we’re not shooting and bombing and bullying and hating one another.

All because the Safeway checker with the very nice voice got a compliment.

Yep, that’s the way my brain works.

Feeling pretty certain that I could change the world with roughly eight words, I put all my courage up on the conveyor belt alongside my Gogurts and granola bars and Honey Nut Cheerios and wine and more wine and Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese.

I swallowed hard and gave him a bright smile. “You know?” I said. “You have a really nice voice.”

And this, my friends, is where my story becomes one of those cautionary tales. Like “Little Red Riding Hood” or that dark Edwardian poetry by Hilaire Belloc, admonishing rhymes directed at kids, with titles such as, “Matilda, Who told lies and was burned to death,” or “Jim, Who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion.”

Here, dear readers, is my 21st Century cautionary tale, titled: “Sarah, Who Complimented a Safeway checker then turned into a mute, blushing idiot.”

Yes, children, think twice before you compliment the Safeway checker on his very nice voice, unless of course you happen to be the CEO of a Radio Voice Search company. Then it’s probably OK.

If you are not such a CEO, however, I suggest you avoid complimenting a stranger’s voice, especially in Safeway, because 1) suddenly you feel like you’ve just offered this compliment over the loudspeaker, and 2) complimenting someone’s voice, you realize too late, is one of those intimate compliments not meant for strangers.

You wouldn’t compliment a Safeway checker on her nice breasts or her nice toes or his nice shoulders, would you? No. Not unless you’re weird, you wouldn’t. And let me tell you, “voice” and “breasts” are in the same camp of intimacy. I don’t know why, but it’s true. TRUST ME.

To make matters worse, when you accidentally flirt with a Safeway checker at what feels like loudspeaker volume, you instantly feel like one of those lonely, 40-ish moms who, because her kids are finally in full-day elementary school, has the luxury of not pushing one of those stupid red car carts or hollering at her kids for trying to sneak the Lucky Charms into the car portion of the car cart. She can go to Safeway alooooone. Ready to flirrrrrt.

And then you realize, much to your chagrin, that on that particular day, you have dressed up a bit, not for the benefit of the well-voiced checker, but because you are going to Bible study, and while you are sure God wishes you’d spend more time cleaning up your potty mouth and serving those in need than you do buying EUC shoes on EBay, you feel better when you’re a little dressy.

Yes, I think I was probably also wearing a swishy skirt and perhaps a cheery scarf because a bit of color is nice in the dead of a Seattle winter when the whole world is the color of concrete and poi.

So of course, the moment I shouted my compliment over the Safeway PA system, I felt like maybe this guy thought I had dressed up for him, then ditched my kids and high-tailed it down to the Safeway, under the auspices of “buying groceries” when really my sole mission was aggressive, premeditated flirtation.

It was pretty much the only time I wished my kids WERE with me at the grocery store, because right as I realized the mistake of my overly-intimate compliment, I could have used my children as distractions.

I might have said, for example, something like, “Hey Buddy. This man has what we call “a radio voice,” meaning that he could easily do commercials and other nice things on the radio. Isn’t that cool? Wouldn’t that be cool to be on the radio?” and then Buddy would have nodded and said something like, “Yeah.” and then run off to join Sweetie at those tables of utter crap that they inevitably plead for as we are pushing the cart out of the store. That they really neeeeeeed the Moon Sand Excavation Simulator Easter Bunny Spraying Pool Toy. That it’s really the oooooonly thing they have ever wanted in their whooooole entire life! And this checker and I could have rolled our eyes and chuckled at the general goofiness of kids. And that would have been that.


As he passed my bagels across the scanner, he gave me a very kind smile. “Thanks,” he said, blushing a little. “I’ve done a little radio . . . trying to break into it. It’s harder to do than most people assume.”

Well, shoot. Am I crazy, or was that just a very nice, very normal response to my compliment?

Perhaps this checker didn’t, in fact, see me as a lonely hussy trolling for men on a Thursday morning. Perhaps this is the first cautionary tale with a happy ending, which I suppose renders it just “a tale.”

Regardless, seeing him blush made me start blushing and there we two were, just a conveyor belt between us, in some sort of blush duet which just exacerbated both of our blushing, and man, talk about ripples!

Maybe not world peace ripples, true. But aren’t blush ripples a nice way to start? Because I think when you blush with someone, you create a bond, a connection with someone. And that is precisely how we get everyone to start being a little kinder to one another: we create bonds.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a very, very small step. But I think even the smallest of steps is pretty good for a Thursday morning, especially whilst wearing cute shoes purchased (for a screaming deal) on EBay.

In fact, I think it’s just what The Dr. ordered.

  1. Love it, Sarah! Thanks for making me laugh on a Monday morning. After you’ve published and sold millions of your YA novel, you should write one of those chick-lit/romance novels that I read secretly on my Kindle when I’m supposed to be reading a medical journal or something deep and meaningful for my book club.

    • Thanks, Josie. You’re so sweet. YOU are a closet romance-reader? I find that hard to believe, but as I have learned, it’s always the ones we least expect. Can’t wait to see you this summer. 🙂

  2. Love this! Not only because you used the description EUC, but because we can all benefit from a little flirtation. What do you think I did all last week!

  3. Y’know Sarah, real community is made of intimate moments. I think we shirk away from these kinds of tiny connections precisely because we are afraid to feel what you describe in those few moments when the compliment is spoken & hangs there…yet when we have the connection, we feel the real love that God is constantly calling us into. Creating community is scary as hell, but so worth it. I’m glad you shared this experience. Made me smile a lot.

    • YES! So true, Zandra. Thanks for your articulate and wise thoughts. You are a reminder that we DO shirk because connection can be, at times and with certain strangers, a bit awkward. So silly, when I think of it that way. Thanks so much. s

  4. This was even funnier when I read the line, “some sort of blush duet which just exacerbated both of our blushing, and man, talk about nipples!”

    If I had been behind you in line, I would have saved you. Or started laughing REALLY, REALLY hard. Which might also have saved you.

    You delight, as always.

  5. That’s how the whole Yitzhak Rabin-Bill Clinton-Yasser Arafat handshake thing came about.

    “You know, Yasser, I’ve been meaning to tell you, that tan uniform really makes you look dignified.” (Shake, shake, shake, smile, smile, smile, camera flash), “Thanks, Yitzhak.”
    All because Yitzhak’s limo driver/body gaurd complimented him the day before on his soothing voice. (True story).

  6. I was holding my breath wondering how this post was going to end! Phew, everything turned out okay! I love the title, Cautionary and I agree with Zandra about how scary it is to create community. I met a woman at Whole Foods, who for about 10 minutes (seemed like a half hour), was trying to figure out why I looked so familiar to her. I had to leave to finish my shopping only to find that she came around the corner with her cart to question me again because it bothered her so much. After about another 10 minutes of answering if I knew “so and so” or went to “so and so’s” party we exchanged emails. I was surprised at myself for giving my email to a total stranger and wasn’t sure if I was going to initiate. I don’t remember who initiated, but we ended up meeting together and since then she has become one of my dearest friends! Although compliments were not exchanged, I think there are underlying similarities to your post? Anyway, it was scary, but the risk was SO worth it!

  7. Sarah, seriously, you probably totally affirmed this guy despite all of his self-doubt about breaking into the radio biz. You made his day, I’m sure.

  8. Sarah, I LOVE this! And you. You are wonderful. Thanks for this. It made my day.

  9. I so needed these chuckles this am- talk about ripple effects. I promise to send my ripple forward. Thanks!

  10. I loved this post, Sarah. So many times, I find myself thinking, Wow, that woman has great hair (or teeth or eyes) and now, I just tell him or her what I think. This change came one day after watching a grocery store employee sitting in her car, crying. Either she was just leaving work or going on duty; I don’t know. But one small act of compassion may change someone’s day. You never know. I’ll trade a little uncomfortableness on my end for the hope that my kind comment will resonate loudly.

    • Thanks so much, Pamela. You are SO right! This morning, after dropping my kids at school, there was a lady on the corner, waiting for walk signal, wearing the best magenta fleecy jacket. It was the perfect color of her skin, and I wanted to roll down my window and tell her so. But then the light turned, and I drove on. Now I really wish I had done it anyway . . . maybe and I should start National Compliment a Total Stranger Day and write about people’s reactions. It would probably scare the pants off some people.

      I look forward to checking out your blog. Happy day to you!

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