(This is a true story – well, mostly true – that happened to me a few years ago. It was the last occasion I visited a copy shop.)

I was in the local copy shop a few days ago more or less minding my own business when this old fellow with a hearing aid who was stapling his copies at the common table pipes up with “WOULD YOU MIND A COMPLIMENT?” loud enough to attract the notice of another woman two tables and three machines away.

Now there’s two ways to a woman’s heart: one is a compliment, the other is a gasp of astonishment when she reveals her true age.

“No, I love compliments,” I said, ready for any ball this old duffer might lob over the net.

YOU SMELL wonderful!” he announced.  “May I ask what perfume you’re wearing?”

I immediately wanted to deny I was wearing any perfume at all but innate honesty and modesty got the best of me. “Cabotine,” I replied demurely.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” he bellowed so that the man four tables and six machines down looked up.

“Cabotine,” I said, moving closer and smiling tightly.

“Boy, I’m gonna TELL MY WIFE ABOUT YOU!” he said, waving the stapler in the air. I edged backwards towards my copier, trying to look busy.


“C-a-b-o-t-i-n-e,” I muttered.


“C-A-B-O-T-I-N-E,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Would you mind writing that down. I like to get some of that stuff for my wife. YOU SURE SMELL good.”

I hurriedly wrote down the name of the perfume on the slip of paper he proffered me and as I turned away, he announced to the woman from two tables down who was now on her way to the check-out, “I sure like the way SHE SMELLS.”

By the time I returned to my copy machine, my knees were wobbly and my forehead moist. Well, I thought after a few moments, the poor old guy couldn’t help it.  One of these days I’m going to be old, too and maybe I won’t hear so good either. And wasn’t that sweet that the old duffer wanted to get his wife some perfume. What a nice old guy.

You see how the idea of distance lending enchantment can creep into your thinking, for it was my smiling kindness towards the Old Duffer (OD) that predisposed my kindness towards his even older counterpart, the Little Old Lady (LOL).

This little elderly woman was wandering disconsolately through the copy machines, winding around the sorting and stapling area and bumping into to the cutting boards. This way-too-soft-heart of mine said to myself, “Hey, look at that old broad. One of these days you might be old and confused in a copy shop, too. Why not give grandma a break?”

Which then prompted me to go up to her and say the fateful words, “Do you need some help?”  Tears rose unbidden into my eyes as I saw the joy simultaneously spring up in hers.

“Oh, yes!” she gasped.

“What do you need,” I asked in my kindest, be-nice-to-old-people voice.

“I have to copy this letter to Mildred,” she replied, waving the five-page, hand-written missive in my face with her one good arm, the other being cradled in a sling.

“Right this way,” I said confidently and led the way to an idle copier. “You just line the paper up right here and push the button. That’s all there is to it.”

I mentally dusted my hands together in satisfaction at this good deed well done and consider the gold star that was even now appearing on that Big Scorecard in the sky (BS). But as I swaggered back to my own copier, I happened to glance back and saw her struggling with her one good arm to raise the heavy copier lid. I did an abrupt about face and solicitously said, “Let me help.”

“Oh, thank you, dear, how kind you are,” she said batting her eyes and looking up at big, strong me with little less than complete adoration.

“No problem,” was my don’t-worry-I’ve-got-it-covered reply. I opened the lid, lined up the first page and said, “Just push this button here,” pointing to the big green-for-go button.

“This one,” she queried.

“That one,” I replied, giving the button a hard push.

“OHHHH!” she squealed as the first page of her letter shot out like a bullet.

“AAAH!” she cried as the second copy was propelled through the machine.

“NOOOOOO!” she screamed as the third copy blasted out the side of the infernal equipment. “I only wanted one copy,” she cried at me with watery blue eyes.

I desperately started punching the big red-for-stop button on the copier, the sweat popping out on my forehead with the same alacrity as the copies were flung out of the machine. Why isn’t this stopping, I cried to the God of the Old Testament who is the same God in charge of computers and other machinery with no mercy.

Finally, with a small hiss of laughter, the copier slid to a stop like a player stealing home. In the old woman’s hands were a dozen copies of the first page of her letter.

“What am I going to do?” she wailed.  “I just wanted one.  I can’t pay for all these copies.”

Feeling lower than a skunk in the hen house, I nervously said I would find someone to help and scurried off. I button-holed the first person I saw with a pocket protector and said, “That woman needs help,” in my most authoritative voice and pointing.

He ambled over to the old woman. From the safety of my own copy machine I thought I heard a low snickering sound. I saw the old woman crumpled and weary, explaining the whole fiasco to the clerk.

Then, in a loud Tweety Pie voice, she said, “And it was all her fault!” and with her good arm, index finger honed to a rapier sharpness, pointed across the aisle towards me.  “She made me do it. She made me make all these copies that I don’t need.  She should pay for them.”

In one smooth motion, all heads in the copy shop swiveled towards me, their eyes accusing, their mouths bowed downward and pinched. I psychologically curled into a ball just like the garden snake did when Mimi the Cat tossed it in the air while sitting under my desk last month. Unfortunately, there was no one to come to my rescue and carry me out to the garden on the end of a spatula.

The young clerk patted the old woman’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry.  I’ll help,” and tossed a scornful look in my direction before putting his head together with the old bat.

I quickly gathered up my copies and slunk towards the check-out. As I made my way across the room, the Old Duffer (OD) was chatting up a young woman. I heard him say, “You wouldn’t mind a COMPLIMENT, would you?”  I didn’t wait for her answer.

“There are three classes into which all elderly women that I ever knew were to be divided:

first, that dear old soul; second, that old woman; third, that old witch.”

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge



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