AUBURN — The Wal-Mart Supercenter has two major entrances out front — left for groceries, right for everything else. 

Arnold McLean is the reason a lot of people hang a left.

He’s quick with a laugh, a smile, a “woo-hoo!” and a booming, “How you doing?” from his greeter’s post just inside the door. In return, customers smile, hug, high-five and tease, and it’s rare when he doesn’t get a wave back.

McLean said he’s happy — and he’s grateful to the core.

He went 17 years without working after he lost his leg to cancer. He was nervous about taking the Wal-Mart job a year ago, but wanted to get out of the house and feel better about himself.

It’s been love.

“I have fun — I turn it on,” said McLean, 53. “Good lord, I can’t turn it off. I can’t hide. If I put on a wig and walk down the street, they still would know who I am. I never had attentio  n like that before. It’s kind of wild.”

McLean, who lives in Auburn, is originally from North Carolina. Eighteen years ago, doctors found bone cancer in his right leg and were able to stop its spread, but were unable to save his limb.

“My bone was ate up so bad,” he said. In the hospital, “I saw angels. I was so nervous. I didn’t know how I was going to adapt to everything.”

Adjustment took a while. Fifteen years ago, he moved to Maine to be closer to his mother. Eventually, McLean decided sitting around “was not me.”

“Staying at home was getting on my nerves,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

Work Opportunities Unlimited, a group that helps people with challenges get into the workplace, helped connect him with the greeter’s position.

McLean was incredibly nervous at first. It showed.

“He was just very shy,” said Wal-Mart Training Coordinator Shelly Morin. “All of a sudden, he opened up. I think he realized he could do it and his true self came out.”

His best advice from a trainer, according to McLean: “He told me, ‘Arnold, you’re going to be all right. Just relax. Just let it come to you.'”

So he did.

Last week, Ruth Gagnon and her boyfriend, George Collins, of Lewiston, walked through checkout and then immediately over to McLean, handing him an early birthday card with a slightly risque message. There were belly laughs all around.

McLean used to live in their building, Gagnon said. “He’s happy all the time. He cheers people up.”

During a shift, thousands of people walk by McLean. It’s his role to set the tone as they enter the store. 

“I make them feel good and that’s all that matters to me,” he said. “When it really gets busy, that’s when I really crank it up. I tell a lot of people, you’ve got to be thankful for what you have. If you ain’t thankful for what you have, what good are you doing?”

He hopes others facing their own issues around work might get inspired by seeing him at his job. Asked if he feels like Wal-Mart gave him a chance, he gently said no.

“They gave me a blessing — something I can really, really focus on,” McLean said. “I can come into work every day and be happy and be proud I can work here.”

Of course, he has down days — no one’s immune, he said. But even then, “there’s so much energy coming off of other people that makes me stronger. They come right in and lift me right up.”

McLean’s now trained other greeters “because he’s so good at what he does,” Morin said.

Motoring through the store last week, past women’s clothes, a shopper stopped McLean at random and asked for his help.

He didn’t hesitate. “Sure,” he said.

She held up a long nightgown, decorated with roses and vines. It was a 3X, and she was waffling on the size.

“Well, she’s got a big butt,” the woman explained.

“Ha! That would be perfect,” McLean said.

But maybe it was too big, she said. She returned it to the rack and grabbed a 2X instead.

“You sure that’s going to fit her?” he asked.

She nodded yes and McLean headed toward his post at the grocery-side door.

Another happy customer.

Know someone everyone knows? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

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