Christmas Eve Morning

24 Dec


This morning at Caribou Coffee, Lance, the store manager from Walmart, bought me a cup of coffee.

I’ve never met him.


I take a seat next to the cash register.  I can barely see faces from this spot, but I hear every reaction to unexpected Christmas generosity.

“Lance, the store manager at Walmart, is buying your coffee this morning.”

“Really?  Wow.  Thanks.”

“Lance, the store manager at Walmart, is buying your coffee this morning.”

“Who? Why would he do that?  Well, thanks.  Merry Christmas!”

“Lance, the store manager at Walmart, is buying your coffee this morning.”

“What a nice guy.  How long has he been manager over there?  Cool.”

Just ordinary words, right?  But, really, what can you say when a stranger picks up your tab?

It’s good enough.  We’re all in a holiday humor.


No particular day.  Oberlin College mail room. Box 425.  A letter from my father.  A twenty dollar bill wrapped in a single sheet of paper: “For pizza with friends.”

No particular day fifteen years later. Salt Lake City.  A letter from my father.  A twenty dollar bill wrapped in a single sheet of paper: “For pizza with the kids.”


Why is he is Lance, the store manager at Walmart?

Couldn’t we leave Walmart out of this?  When Lance buys my coffee, it’s Christmas.

If Walmart buys my coffee, it’s more like customer relations.

Back to familiar melancholy.


“No.  Put your money away.  Lance, the store manager at Walmart, is buying this morning.”

“Really?  Awesome. Hey, could you ring up a handful of those caramels separately.”

“Something sweet with your coffee, huh?”

“Put them in a bag.  Give them to Lance next time he comes in.”

27 Responses to “Christmas Eve Morning”

  1. Iden December 24, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Merry Christmas from Cherrymont!

    • jenny December 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

      Merry Christmas TO Cherrymont!

  2. Paul Costopoulos December 24, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Merry Christmas from Longueuil.
    No amount of coffee or anything else will bring me inside a Walmart, period.

    • jenny December 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm #


      Lemme ‘splain. Can’t have you thinking that I was in Walmart on Christmas Eve. And, do I have to say that I am also no fan of Walmart? Though I can’t say that I never go there.

      But this did not happen at Walmart. It was down the road at Caribou Coffee (a chain that is responsible only for running independent coffee shops out of business).

      The Walmart manager (the barista tells me) came in for his morning coffee, bought a gift card, and left it with the cashier to treat people to coffee until it ran out. Don’t ask me how much he put on the card. I also don’t know whether the money came out of his pocket or Walmart’s.

      I was treated to a cup of coffee on Christmas Eve and these were my thoughts.

      • Andreas Kluth December 26, 2011 at 10:17 am #

        Aha. THAT (the fact that you were at Caribou Coffee, not Walmart) belonged in there, up top.

        Bizarre situation indeed — with the bizarreness ENTIRELY (as you say) in the phrase “the store manager at Walmart”.

        You would have loved to hear the phrase “a guy named Lance”. Or: “the patron who came in 8 minutes ago.”….

      • jenny December 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

        Yeah, I see that it’s easy to conclude that this happened at Walmart. I’ve changed it a bit.

        A while back, Andreas, you wrote about the importance of a first reader. I almost never have anyone read anything I write. This is what happens.

  3. Anthony Abbott December 24, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    The Gift of Association. Love it.

  4. Man of Roma December 24, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Merry Christmas from Italy, Jenny.
    I am busy preparing the Christmas tree with my wife (we were very lazy about it this year) and have some relatives about to come for dinner in a couple of hours.
    Christmas Eve, in my house, is what we celebrate mostly.
    Not that Walmarts excite me that much either, but my daughters would appreciate: they love everything American (they took it from me I guess).

    Buone feste, bonnes fêtes!

    • Paul Costopoulos December 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      Walmart is the epitome of savage capitalism, they are the uppermost 1% and their employees are very low in the 99%.

      • jenny December 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

        And it’s aesthetically unappealing. But this particular store manager is probably not in the uppermost 1%.

    • jenny December 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm #


      Auguri! 🙂

  5. Thomas Stazyk December 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    This is the best Christmas message I’ve seen in a long, long time. Thanks.

    • jenny December 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      That, Tom, means a lot to me.

      A very Merry Christmas to you!

  6. dafna December 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    great post jenny!

    my dad still does the same thing… once i got an envelope in college with only the sunday comics!

    now jacob receives these kind of envelopes. a man of few words, but sweet gestures.

    it might have been even more humorous to “pay it forward” with a gift card left @ Caribou to buy the next customers a coffee from… insert you favorite cause or polarizing “ism” here:

    i would have like to overhear those reactions!

    i’ve got a variation that i do, just for the spectacle: try offering to share your umbrella with a stranger on a rainy day, or offer a spare seat in a crowded restaurant. many people refuse these simple one to one interactions.

    chinese and a movie tomorrow?

    • jenny December 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm #


      Fiddler on the Roof and Green Beans with Garlic Sauce.


  7. Cyberquill December 25, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    Gift is the German word for poison.

    • jenny December 25, 2011 at 8:00 am #

      Cyberquill: Man of many Gifts.

  8. Marilyn December 25, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    We would call your post hakaras hatov… recognizing the good. Regardless of where the gentleman works, he made a genuinely kind gesture; hakaras hatov to you for acknowledging it so nicely and publicly.

    My sister used to stop at toll booths and pay her own toll and that of the person behind her. Just because. Usually there was no real way to know whether the extra change went to the next driver or the toll collector, but either way she was injecting some completely unexpected generosity into the world, which I think inspires others.

    Have a wonderful holiday.

    • jenny December 26, 2011 at 7:22 am #

      Thanks, Marilyn. You, too!

      • Brother John December 27, 2011 at 7:55 am #

        I knew you were not in Walmart–particularly during the mayhem of the Christmas holidays– but am curious whether Lance, the Store Manager from Walmart, was open to treating cappuccinos and lattes or perhaps an herbal tea (geez, I hope not!), or had he left clear instructions with the card that “its coffee for all this Christmas!”

      • jenny December 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

        Brother John,

        Lance was paying for whatever customers were ordering, actually.

        A microphilanthropist.

        Sister Jenny

  9. Chris January 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm #


    My email updates from you are missing posts! Thus, why I show up now. So damn thoughtful. Would the act have changed if he had just been Lance? Would it have been weirder? “What’s this Lance guy trying to make up for?” I think that’s my own cynicism talking.

    Maybe if he’s Lance, the store manager at Walmart, he can write it off as public relations, giving him a chance to throw the money around at all. A loophole that leads to bureaucratic kindness. Walmart being generous despite itself? In my rare spiritual moments, I might call that a Christmas miracle.

    • jenny January 7, 2012 at 6:23 am #

      Chis, hi!

      This post is a Mitch Hedberg tribute. You know this bit of his:

      My friend said to me “I think the weather’s trippy.” And I said “No man, it’s not the weather that’s trippy. Perhaps it is the way that we percieve it that is indeed trippy.” Then I thought “man, I should have just said ‘yeah’.”

      I had your cynical thoughts, and a few more, about Lance; then I thought “man, I should have just said “yeah.”

      So, yeah. How are you? What are you reading? What are you writing? How’s that commitment to read Shakespeare panning out?

      Happy New Year!

  10. lyndabirde February 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    just found a moment to try to catch up on the s & s, and I’m starting here reading the Christmas eve morning on ash wednesday. adorably penned. I love Lance and his hopes to spread the Xmas cheer (did he tell them to mention that he works for Wal-mart? Guess we’ll never know). each year I have this dilemma: Grandma and Gramps–who are now 89 and 90–buy everybody and their kids Walmart gift cards, so I am forced to consider entering Walmart. It makes me sick, but Grandma wants to know what all of us spend our cards on. Hmmmm. should I be charitable and give it to someone?? that would be tacky, huh? after all, my grandparents actually got in the oldsmobile and drove 6 miles to Grove City to purchase all of these credit cards because they love us and they still can! and if I give it away, what’ll I tell Grandma? can’t lie to her [cringe]. most years I grit my teeth as I sneak into the blaring store and quickly toss into my cart red pens and black pantyhose (teacher supplies, which Gram can appreciate). but other years I stack towels in the cart or pile it with fresh produce and yogurt and pretzels and tea bags. these always make her feel good too. I hurry out of the terrifying place and thank God for the generosity of my sweet grandfolks. I try not to knock Lance down as he comes on for first shift. I’d like to buy him coffee, but . . . .

    • lyndabirde February 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

      something about your writing always gets me going. Jenny, my muse.

    • jenny February 23, 2012 at 7:28 am #

      Hi Lynda!

      Produce and yogurt would be practical, but red pens and black pantyhose is such a great visual, and it’s practical too. That’s my vote.

      Nice to hear from you. Your presence will make Walmart a little classier that day!

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