The Kindness Of Strangers

Pinhead Angel 

by Burt Kempner

Burt KempnerGAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—11/28/11—“I could watch you shop all day.”

That was a new one. When you reach a certain age, pick-up lines mutate from, “Sail my way, Dreamboat,” to “Hey, you don’t smell like Ben-Gay!”

I stared at the round-faced, pleasant-looking young man ahead of me on line in the supermarket, determined to come up with a witty riposte. “Pardon?” (That wasn’t it.)

“I noticed you while you were walking down the aisles. You seem like a very happy man.”

Stop goggling, you nimrod! Say something. “I do my best.”

The young man nodded, as if digesting a particularly tasty morsel of wisdom. “I know. I hope you don’t think I’m being weird or something, but I’d like to buy your groceries today.”

“You . . . what?”

“Your groceries. I’d like to pay for them.”

Check for hidden camera. None in sight.

“But . . . why?”

“It’s something I do.”

“But . . . why?”

We shook hands. The man introduced himself as Jamie.

“Are you a vet?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“I served in the first Iraq War; then in Afghanistan.” Everything about Jamie was youthful but his eyes.

“I should be picking up your bill.”

Jamie’s smile was the first sign of shyness I’d seen in him. “I don’t go out very much. I go to the supermarket about once a month but, when I do, I always pay for the person just ahead or behind me on line.”

A cleverer man might have asked why. I was too preoccupied conjuring up visions of nightmares and PTSD. The check-out clerk interrupted my dark reverie.

Groceries“That comes to $180.”

“Look, Jamie, this is really nice of you, but $180 is a nice chunk of change and I can well afford it.”

“Please, I insist.”

A frozen tableau right off the frozen food aisle: Jamie, holding out his credit card, the open-jawed clerk and Yours Truly glancing down as if my package of sun-dried tomatoes contained the answer.

A few seconds went by. Perhaps more. I don’t remember.

“That’s amazingly kind of you, Jamie. Thank you. I accept.”

The entire check-out line seemed to go back to the business of breathing again. The clerk swiped Jamie’s card. It cleared. We shook hands again and he left.

The clerk began loading my cart. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he muttered.

I know. I know. Jamie could have given the money to someone who really needed it, not shoppers at a semi-affluent food emporium. But when angels descend, is it up to us mortals to give them landing instructions?

As it turned out, the next morning I sent a check for $181 to a local homeless/disabled vet center. I hope I did right by you, Jamie, my benefactor, my teacher.

Burt Kempner has worked as a scriptwriter in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. His documentaries have appeared on PBS, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, CNBC, and European and Asian TV networks. He has two dogs, a cat, a wife and a son and is randomly kind to them all. More recently, Kempner has written three rather subversive books for children: Larry the Lazy Blue Whale, Monty the Movie Star Moose and The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez. Visit his Amazon author page:


  • Dean Pratt

    Very nice Burt! With all of the pain and suffering in the world we must not, we should never forget that angels do exist.

  • Guinevere oh'gaughan

    What amazing story! I had a similar one about 6 months ago. Being a busy mom and it was close to 6 am with 4 kids running all over the place. When I finally went to the register to pay I realized I forgot my wallet. It was only 2 gallons of milk and meds for my daughter. A woman insisted on paying and I asked her to follow me to my car so I could pay her back. She smiled and said that it wa not needed. I never had that experience before of a kind gesture with no expectations. I ran into her on thanksgiving day at the sane store with my husband and he went over to thank her and bought her a flower arrangement for her table. You are such a great writer Burt!!! Thanks for sharing, Guinevere

  • Burt Kempner

    Dean: If we keep holding out for a shining being with massive wings, we’ll miss the true messengers that have been sent to us. Guinivere: I have no trouble believing that you magnetically attract kind words and good deeds. You are beautiful in every sense of the word. Thanks so much to both of you for your warmth and appreciation.