Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Expecting the Unexpected

Best dango (traditional sweet treats) and rice balls in town 
Experiencing a sudden craving for rice balls, I had two options before me that would satisfy the savage beast in my belly. I could make them myself or buy them already made. Lacking the necessary raw ingredient (rice), I chose the latter. It was an easy decision to make but it put me face to face with another quandary. Should I buy from the brightly lit chain shop up the hill with its sparkling stainless steel counter tops and squeaky clean glass cases or go to the funky little neighborhood place I usually frequent? 

I thought about it for a second. If I chose the former, the rice balls would be exactly as I expected, all served up by a crew of expert technicians clad in surgical masks, aprons, and  gloves, who have been carefully trained to never utter a word that falls outside a manual that was painstakingly scripted to streamline any needless chit chat out of existence. It had everything I desired. Most of all it lacked the element of surprise that existed at the rickety old wooden storefront just down the street where somebody was always in the mood for gabbing. 

So I headed toward the bright gleaming shop on the hill where there was no danger of anyone engaging me in idle conversation and the only thing expected of me was cold hard cash. I made it about fifty paces before the guilt started to settle into my bones and stopped me dead in my tracks. Like it or not, I have developed a relationship with that little mom & pop shop that's hard to sever so quickly. Besides that it's a lot closer to home, geographically as well as figuratively speaking. I really had no choice so I turned and walked back down the hill.

"I saw your mother-in-law the other day," the old lady said to me the minute I stepped under the shop's faded awning. Then she went on to tell me, "I told her, you're a real nice guy. At the top of my lungs I shouted, 'HE'S SUCH A NICE GUY," really, I did!" 

I've come to expect the unexpected here and this greeting was definitely a pleasant surprise that really made my day and then some. I'm glad I decided to make my lunchtime investment in the local community. Now I only wish the old lady who owns that rice ball shop didn't have me confused with the Irish guy who used to live down the street from me (I hope he and his mother-in-law appreciate what I've done for his reputation) but that might be expecting too much. 


  1. Funny story with a nice twist at the end. I relate to your story, as I really dislike interacting with or being remembered by store clerks. I guess I want to make purchases in anonymity. At my local grocery store the other day, an old man who works there looked into my basket and asked, "Nabe tonight?" I wanted to shoot back, "None of your business," but instead just nodded and walked away. I'm not quite sure my extreme aversion to this kind of conversation is normal, but it usually wins out over my desire to help the local community. (Confession.) Good for you for making the trek up the hill.

    1. Yeah- I find buying from those little mom & pop shops can be a real challenge sometimes.

    2. One evening about a year ago, or so, I stopped at this same dango and onigiri shop to pick up some rice balls for supper. Before I told the shop owner what I wanted, he told me, “You’re having rice balls for dinner tonight. You’re mother-in-law already came and picked up the order.” My family and I don’t live together with my mother-in-law (almost though -she lives around the corner) but it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility that she would have treated us. She showers us with lots of little treats from time to time. So I just said, “Oh, I didn’t know that,” thanked him and headed for home empty-handed. When I got home everybody was hugely disappointed to see me with nothing in my hands for them to chow down on. I think I went out again and got a sack of hamburgers from MOS Burger and returned home the long way so I wouldn’t have to pass by the dango and onigiri shop. It was months later that I finally figured out that they had me confused with my brother from across the seas who used to live down the street.

    3. That time their conversation didn't help them out with business. That is funny.

    4. Yeah it sure didn't but since then I think I've made up for the financial loss they suffered that day.