I bought a desk today. It was in a chain store - Office Depot - so I was not expecting anything special. Any place that calls itself "depot" without a train coming down the tracks irritates me. But I had been casing desks there for days, going back over and over again to look at them, one in particular, taking its measurements, and going back home to think about it. I had become a stalker of desks.
The perfect desk needed to hold a computer and little more. Most importantly, it needed to be invisible enough to sit in the corner of my dining room and not appear to dominate the room, even though everyone knows a computer dominates any room in which it sits, just as it dominates any life it enters, constantly forcing you to check for e-mails - does anybody care about you today? - and in my case, constantly beckoning: write, write, write something. Paper and pen probably did that to writers in other ages, gilded empty parchment pages sitting seductively next to an inkwell on Virginia Woolf's desk in her "room of one's own."
After much contemplative searching I had found the perfect desk, and now I was finally going to buy it. Kidney-shaped glass top floating over metal legs. Nearly invisible. And priced at only $79.
It is a Friday, 7:30 p.m., odd time to be shopping. The store is nearly empty. Anyone with any sense would be somewhere eating dinner at this hour. But I must have the desk. I want to put it together Saturday morning and get my life in order. I find a young man, give him the product number and ask him if the glass desk is in stock. He disappears into the back room to look for it. I stand waiting near the checkout counter. Several people ask me if I'm OK. My just standing there doing nothing worries them. Or perhaps I look tired. Moving, settling in, unpacking boxes is exhausting.
In truth, I am feeling quite patient. I am a woman focused on a single, important mission. I have refused to capitulate and task my dining room table - it should be reserved for eating. But I must finally connect my computer and find how many hundreds of e-mails have backed up. Does anybody care that I just up and moved away?
The young man comes out. He can't find it, but the store computer says it's in stock, so he isn't about to give up. He summons a colleague to help him look. I meander to the back of the store and find an office chair to sit on in the furniture department. But I've barely begun to relax when the two clerks come out with the desk on a dolly, ready to take it to my car. When I pay at checkout, the manager informs me she's taking $10 off the price of the desk "because I had to wait so long."
So long? What was it, 10 minutes, 15 at the most? Ten dollars off?!
At home - no, it's no longer my home - back where I used to live, they would have given up looking after five minutes. Furthermore, some sullen clerk would have been irritated that I had sat around waiting for it. At any rate, no one would have discounted the desk because I had to wait for it to come out of the stock room.
This is why I moved back to Kansas. Not to save the $10, but to be around people who care about others, even strangers. People who take their jobs seriously. People who are courteous. A $10 discount? I would have paid an extra $10 for the treatment I received.
I've been here now for three months. I'm still amazed at how many Lawrencians practice random acts of kindness every day without even thinking about it. A week after I arrived, a neighbor I hadn't met yet came over with his earth mover to plow my driveway after a snowstorm dumped several inches. Another neighbor who lives at the base of the hill read my water meter for me, and will every month because it's easier for him to get to it from his yard than for me to climb down a steep, tree-covered slope to do it. As far as I can tell, the people doing these random acts of kindness don't think of them as either duties or favors. It's just the way people are supposed to live. It's part of the Kansas character.
It's good to be home.