Yesterday I was reading something from a fellow blogger about how he always buys solid-colored shirts at Target. His wife had posted a picture of him on Facebook, and it makes me laugh to tag pictures with ridiculous tags, so I tagged his pic. He was holding a piece of bacon, so I tagged it "Bacon" (duh). I tagged his eyes, "his eyes how they twinkled" and his cheek with "his dimples how merry," etc. I got to the shirt and tried to tag it "Target" and Facebook said I didn't have permission. Meh. But that made me remember I'd been at Target over the weekend with Lily.
We could not find shoes for her to save our lives. Leslie had already been to Target -- and Macy's and Nordstrom's and Payless -- and had struck out. She sent me out to get a new school backpack for her and I struck out. But on the way out I thought, What the hell, I'll take a look around for shoes just in case.
Lily is autistic. If you've read my blog, you probably already know that. She moves her feet constantly when she's sitting. When she was a baby she blistered her feet from rubbing them back and forth across the carpet of our living room. We put socks on her. At least no blisters. The point is... she goes through shoes pretty fast, wearing holes in the fronts usually, because she likes the feeling she gets in her feet when she drags the toe of her shoes across the asphalt of the playground.
We'd been cleaning out her closet a couple nights prior and dug up some of Emma's old Chuck Taylors. Well... Target sells those. So I looked, and found some. They're awesome for kids who drag toes because of the rubber toes. I found a pair in black and a pair in pink, I tossed them in the cart and we made for the checkout.
I looked for either the shortest line or a long line of people with very little to buy, balanced out the math and ended up in line... I don't know... call it three. As I put the shoeboxes on the belt, I heard the cashier humming a little to himself. I waited for the woman in front of me to pay. The cashier put his hands on his head and hummed. At first I thought for a split second that he was irritated with the woman paying. That's ballsy, I thought. You're so impatient for this woman that you're putting your hands up and humming? But I noticed the hum never really stopped. I noticed too that he shifted from foot to foot... side to side. The fingers he had laced behind his head were fluttering against his scalp, but he took them down and told the woman politely to have a nice day as he handed her the receipt.
Interesting, I thought... is he autistic, like Lily? I was almost instantly certain that he was. I wanted to say, "HEY! AWESOME! My daughter is on the spectrum!" but I didn't. I didn't want to embarrass him or call attention to him. So I just watched him do his job, like I would anyone else. And he did it well.
He did not make eye contact with me, but I only really noticed that because I was actively noticing things. I remember thinking to myself about a third of the way through the transaction, "Did he make eye contact? I can't remember." Lily looks me in the eye constantly, so I've never really gotten the importance of it, when I consider some of the other obstacles she has to circumnavigate. He hummed when he wasn't politely communicating with me, asking whether I had coupons, taking payment, giving change, wishing me a pleasant day.
And I thought... "Good on you, Target! You hired a good cashier."
And I remember thinking too that the symptoms manifest in the briefest exchange we shared at the register must also have been apparent to the folks who interviewed him for the job. And they gave him the job.
Okay... so back to Facebook. After I tagged the picture (or failed to tag it), I searched for Target and figured I'd write a quick "kudos" to them and ask a few people I know in the autism blogging community to just go read and like it because when I wrote it, it was wedged (I'm not even kidding) between a wall post that said, "Target sucks" and "Eat a dick, Target." So I wasn't particularly confident that what I posted would be seen by Target.
At the very least, I was trying to say, "Hey, friends who have kids with autism and know me... or friends who have autism who know me, look at what I saw at Target. Neat, right?"
Also, I was hoping that maybe Target corporate would look at the dozen or so likes and comments from these friends and communicate to the Target where I shop: "Good work, local store, your patrons appreciate your hiring diversity."
Right. So I posted this:
There's nothing particularly heroic, epic or even (in my head) touching or heartwarming in what I wrote. That was on purpose. I wasn't trying to be emotional; I was just trying to give them credit where credit was due, from a father whose daughter is autistic, to a company who I've just seen has hired an autistic adult. That's it. THE END.
I don't know whether it struck a chord in the special needs community, or if people just love Target so much and they're sick of urban legends about Target hating gays and the military, but it exploded. I've never had anyone THAT interested in anything I've written, and, as one commenter pointed out, I didn't even write it correctly. ("The past tense of ring is rang," he said. Fantastic. And I want people to think of me as a writer.)
Somewhere in the flurry of likes and comments, I lost the ability to "like" all the commenters, or even keep up with them, or their responses to each other -- let alone me.
So this post is a summary and bit of a response to some of the major comments received.
1. Ninety-nine percent of it was positive.
People said they were weeping and that it made their day, and it made me realize what a dearth of "good messages" for people in the special needs community there is, or at least how precious even a trivial positive story is when you spend all day every day looking for food or a job, or at IEP meetings or doctor's offices, or fighting people who think they know better than you "what that kid really needs."
And this cashier is local, but I swear I got at LEAST 30 comments about how they know the cashier and always pick his line, or they went to school with him and he's awesome, or they work with him and he does it all and is great.
He's the rock star of Target cashiering or something.
The rest of the responses were split as follows:
2. "This is a fake post by Target PR to drum up business for Target."
I never knew if people were seeing my comments back indicating "no, I'm not a fake, just something I saw," but why would they believe me anyway? Also, I really didn't understand what the big deal was. (Apart from the cashier, who was awesome.) It's not like I said, "While I was at Target an autistic cashier jumped in front of a car and saved my daughter's life." He did a good job.
I was called a transparent corporate shill. I was called a brilliant liar. I think mostly people thought it was fake because of the numbers it generated... inexplicable, ridiculous numbers. And it's easier to believe the bad than it is to believe the good.
3. "Target shouldn't be praised for not discriminating."
They shouldn't have to be praised for not discriminating. The way the world should work is this: people do the right thing. All the time. Everyone does. You don't get credit or kudos for doing the right thing... you just correct those who are doing the wrong thing. But that isn't the way the world works. When you find a good story... a little victory... you celebrate it. You give thanks. You give kudos. You hope for more, but you take in your little successes, you praise positive behavior and you build on it and hope for bigger and bigger successes.
4."Target discriminates against gays and the military."
I don't know the whole "Target discriminates" story well enough. I've read a half dozen different accounts where Target is replaced by Walmart or by Starbucks or another chain and gays is replaced by military, and as far as I know, they're all urban legends. I get this crap sent to me via email all the time. The first place I look is snopes.com. It's invariably bullshit. And LOTS of people buy it hook, line and sinker.
5. "You're praising the wrong party. You should be praising the man, not the company."
Is Target the hero of this "story"? No. I am. HAH! No, I kid. The cashier is. The cashier who probably has had to deal with bullying, and therapy, and doubt and struggle all his life. Target deserves credit for not overlooking him. But he is an inspiration to me and the hero of the story; someone I hope my daughter will someday match. And there were random asshats that were dismissive of his role with the company: "Great, so they gave him a minimum wage job... some victory." That sort of thing. But really, as I look at where Lily is now, that minimum wage job (I have no idea what he makes) is as far from her imagined extrapolated future as Rocket Science. It's an awesome magical target (no pun intended).
6. "You should contact Target and let them know."
I thought I WAS contacting Target when I left that on their wall. The idea all along was to get friends to comment and like it so there were a couple dozen views and then Target's Facebook admin would see it and go, "Awww, look, someone doesn't think we suck or should eat a dick." They LIKE us!! And pass it along. And in fact about 300 likes in, the Target admin DID post a message:
Hi Jim - It's great to hear when our Team Members provide you with an enjoyable shopping experience. We'll be glad to pass along your comments to the... Store Leadership team. -Thelma
It was very canned and boilerplate, but I appreciated it nonetheless. At that point, like I said, I had (in my head) HUGE (300) likes and so I was satisfied. But I thought about the comments that I should pass the information along to the management directly, and I think that's probably what I should do -- what I will do.
7. Random asshattery.
These guys would interject random "who cares?" and "what kind of dumbass posts this story on a corporate Facebook site?" and "what's your point?" along with the couple of other people who felt bad about having "Eat a dick Target" get buried under a flood of positive and so would interject as needed. Occasionally people corrected grammar, assaulted character or whatever... you'll have that.
At the time of this post there are more than 330,000 likes on Facebook and almost 8,500 comments. Ninety-nine percent of it, like I said, is overwhelmingly positive.
I did not count on that sort of response on Facebook. It wasn't meant to generate attention or traffic for me -- or for Target, for that matter. It was supposed to be a heads-up to the special needs community that Target does good things, and a kudos to Target for doing them.
But I love that people loved the story. I love that people knew the cashier (whose name I now know, and whose line I'll now seek out, regardless of the balancing math of number in line versus amount in cart) and thought the world of him. I loved finding out that he is on the spectrum. I loved finding out that he does more than cashier and that people think he's a good guy; a gentleman. Today was a good day.
I hope Target appreciates him and what he does for them. I appreciate that they hired him.
A version of this post originally appeared on Just a Lil Blog. Some details were removed prior to publication on The Huffington Post.
Follow Jim Walter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/blogginglily