The Observed Observing the Observers

I was three months into a new job. It was a part-time position as a deli clerk for a large chain supermarket. I worked behind the counter. The Observed Observing the ObserversSlicing roast beef, ham, salami, pastrami, liverwurst, turkey, chicken, and a dizzying selection of cheeses. Too vast to mention in a single blog. The work was easy, the pay was slightly better than what most retail jobs paid. I took the position because I was out of work, and I did not want to be confined to my house while I searched for a new full-time job in my field. Besides, being in retail, even in a deli, requires interacting with people and selling. Skills which are essential if you are going to be interviewing for a new position.

One afternoon, as I was slicing some top-round roast beef for a customer (one half pound, not too thin, but not too thick), I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched … observed … studied. It was an odd feeling. It was if someone was watching my every move. How I interacted with the customer, how I sliced the product, etc.

At first, I thought it was a Mystery Shopper. The manager had warned us about them. People who get paid to go to a store, observe, and answer questions about their shopping experience afterwards. But it was not. Mystery Shoppers usually are not that obvious. At least the experienced ones aren’t.

No. I was being observed by a man and a woman. Both seemed to be in their early sixties. Both were quiet with a little whispering between them. Both looked professorial in a stereotypical way.

The man resembled a quantum physics professor: unkempt, wiry gray hair, round gold-rimmed glasses, his shirt looked like it had never been introduced to an iron, his jeans were worn. He looked uncomfortable being in a public place.

The woman had long, gray and black hair which she kept in a tight no-nonsense ponytail. She was slender. She had emerald green eyes. SheThe Observed Observing the Observers had the look of someone who had spent her entire life observing. She reminded me of someone famous. Not a celebrity, not a politician, someone who had become famous because of her work. She had the demeanor of someone who strongly believed that every individual mattered.

I finished with my current customer, and I called out the next customer number. It was the academia couple.

The woman said, “I’d like a quarter of a pound of your oven-roasted turkey please. Thinly sliced.” Her voice was soft and with an accent.

Looking into her eyes, I felt that I was starring into the portals of a vast library filled with scientific data.

I said, “But of course.”

I completed her order, and said, “What type of cheese would you like today?”

She looked at me and said, “None today. Thank you.”

Just then the man spoke up and said, “I think we should get some cheese, Jane.”

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