NOTE: In the interests of protecting the privacy of the individuals and institutions involved, I’ve changed the names and a couple of personally identifying details in the following account. The story, however, unfolded exactly as described.
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A neighbor of mine here in Darkest Suburbia walked up to his apartment door late one afternoon this past week to find a cheery little yellow flowered gift bag on his doorstep. Inside were (a) a box of six snickerdoodle cookies (his mother’s favorite), (b) a box of orange spice tea bags (ditto), and (c) a handwritten note, reading as follows:
I thought your mom would enjoy these treats. 🙂 Thanks again for your time last week.
A friendly, thoughtful gesture? Well, possibly…
…except that Dani has never met Scott’s mother. Dani works for a local senior living community which offers memory care, and Scott has been busy for the past couple of weeks touring a number of memory care institutions. He’s looking for a suitable facility for his mother, Adele, who has been diagnosed with dementia and now needs more specialized living arrangements than her current caregivers are able to provide. It isn’t practical for Adele to come and go on these scouting visits, so Scott has been doing this on his own.
Now as it happens, there was also a phone message from Dani on Scott’s answering machine:
Hi, Scott, this is Dani from Northmont at Bonny Slope; I just wanted to let you know that I was running some errands and I dropped off a treat for your mom at your apartment — I’m sorry I missed you. It’s in a yellow gift bag and I’m sure she’ll enjoy it.
The stinger here is not that Dani knew Adele’s tastes in cookies and tea; that came up in the conversation she and Scott had while he was touring the Northmont complex. Similar conversations had happened on all of Scott’s tours, though he recalls the one with Dani as a little more probing. No, the salient details are that Scott’s home is several miles away from the Northmont in an unlikely direction for errand-running…and the cookies came not from the upscale supermarket bakery just down the road from Scott’s place, but from the one just across the street from the Northmont. Scott was also a little surprised at the timing of the gift; he had taken a more conventional follow-up phone call from Dani a day or so earlier, and had let her know at that time that he was at least a week away from making a decision. The inevitable conclusion is that the “gift” is more marketing tactic than act of spontaneous generosity.
What’s more difficult to decide is whether the gesture is merely awkward or outright stalker-ish. Scott can’t simply hand over the gift to Adele, who has no context for — and limited ability to understand — why a total stranger would send her cookies and tea. (It’s also worth noting that some memory care patients need supervision where eating is concerned, so that any gift of food is potentially problematic.) Accepting and presenting the treats as his own is, if not strictly dishonest, at least a little disconcerting. And where complimentary goodies are usually perfectly good marketing tools, most of the time they’re usually presented as just that — not as a gift to someone not yet involved in the sales conversation.
For my part, I sincerely doubt that Dani’s intentions were anything but benign. But in the circumstances, it’s clear that her arrival on Scott’s doorstep was more purposeful than spontaneous. And that makes it much too easy for her gesture to be misread as genuinely creepy rather than professionally over-eager. It’s an error in judgment that does the Northmont no favors as Scott ponders the best facility for his mother, and an oddly aggressive marketing tactic in an industry where demand is high enough that many facilities often have long waiting lists.
Indeed, Scott reports that he’s more or less taken the Northmont off his list for reasons mostly unrelated to the gift drop-off. But that’s left him with a new problem: now what’s he supposed to do with the cookies and tea?
I may just volunteer to eat the evidence.