To us insufferable implacables, bereft in a computerized world, there is a wispy hope. May I introduce with pride President Farrington of Hannaford Brothers? Mr. Farrington has just done a noble thing: He has disproved my contention that with computers there is nobody to talk to. I talked, and he listened. And Mr. Farrington's huge wholesale/retail food firm was the first business in Maine to computerize.
I attended the company exercises away back then when the computer was installed and turned itself on. That was the momentous day when the grocery business accepted the age of computerization. From then on, if you wanted to know the inventory of any store in the Hannaford Brothers chain, you just press 1, 2, and 14. This chain includes all of New England, part of New York, and as far south as Yankees have ventured since 1865. Mr. Farrington presides over many Wheaties.
But as the computer age was ushered in with pomp and pickled beets, a note of warning was ignored. There was room in the Hannaford computer for all the Hannaford business, but one corner was not used. That corner was rented to Bowdoin College, an institution of higher learning here in Maine, and the college inserted its academic affairs and also joined the computer age. So much so, that the next June, Bowdoin graduated an upstanding young scholar with 28 A's, high honors in six subjects, Alumni Prize, Phi Beta Kappa, and 12 cases of black pepper.
To bring matters up to date, I join my wife on her weekly visit to the Hannaford Brothers market, give her $3, and sit on a bench provided until she returns with her shopping cart loaded rap-full. (The Hannaford stores are called Shop 'n Save.) She gives me my change, and we depart well-pleased.
Well-pleased, that is, except for that bench I use while waiting. It is a settee, iron legs and ends, maybe five feet long, and slatted in red oak for seat and back. The slats are spaced either too close apart or too far together, and the manner in which the human body is arranged is not compatible with the Hannaford Brothers sedentary arrangements.
I think this bench is the most uncomfortable perch I've been subjected to, except a rock I used to sit on when I rested from hoeing tomatoes. Grandfather told me to rest as necessary, but to sit on a sharp rock so I wouldn't rest too long, as time fleets and evensong comes soon.
One day while I was resting on the Hannaford Brothers rock, a lady of pleasant approach joined me and said she was waiting for somebody and did I mind? I begged her to be seated. She said she lives in Limington and has four grandchildren, and after a few minutes she shifted so I was aware that the slats on our bench had come to her attention.
Now, I submit that the matter is not something one discusses freely with a lady from Limington he has just met by circumstance and not by formal polite introduction. So I broached things delicately, chose my words with great care, and was able to avoid offense. I said, "This bench is uncomfortable!"
She said, "Buster, you ain't never spoken a word any truer'n them there!"
Having thus taken an extended poll in the matter, I decided to undertake reform, so after my lady-friend had left to go to Limington I beckoned to a young man who appeared to hold a position of importance in the Hannaford chain, and I said to him, "That nice lady says this bench is uncomfortable."
He said, "Yeah, most ever'body says that."
So I responded, "Is there something we can do about it?"
"Naw, them benches are all alike. Got 'em in all the stores. You couldn't pay me to sit on one."
Recognizing instantly that the philosophies of the computer age were flavoring the young man's attitudes, I gripped my courage and said, "Why don't you go out in the back room, find a corrugated cardboard box, and cut a piece to fit the bench? That would ease the apertures, and the lady from Limington will rejoice."
"Well," he said, "that ain't my job."
In a flash I thought of that poor graduate, setting out in life with only his A.B. and 12 cases of black pepper. "We are here to serve you," says the sign in the Shop 'n Save.
I FOUND this lady from Limington good company. She weighs, I'm guessing, 20 stone, but she has a happy smile warm as toast and sweeter'n a pail of new milk.
So when I couldn't persuade anybody to go and find a piece of corrugated cardboard to assuage the misery of our grocery hour, and the lady from Limington and I had become more personalized about discussing the seat of our displeasure, I wrote a letter to Mr. Farrington. He's the president of computerized Hannaford Brothers. I asked him if he could think of some way to make me and my lady-friend from Limington more comfortable while frittering money at his place.
It's hard to believe, but Mr. Farrington, seated in his comfy president's chair and surrounded by computerized complexities, did not press a button to consult any functional net, nor did he turn to any of his departmentalized associates to have them do an in-depth survey, press 3, and report at the next board meeting.
He grabbed time by the forelock, he seized the day, he struck while the iron was hot. He showed up at his store on next grocery day with a cushion, courtesy of Hannaford Brothers, and we're here to serve you!
Will anybody out there in utterly computerized fancyland tell one any better than that?