There is a moment nearly every time I peel a plastic shopping bag off the rack where I envision myself snapping it open efficiently, popping it over my head, twisting the handles around my neck and flailing to death on the floor behind the cash register while shoppers look on, fascinated and horrified. If I’m going down, I want to ruin some rich person’s vacation while I’m at it.
I have an alarming number of these fantasies: Falling down the concrete stairs to the basement to land in a pile of bleeding bones. Smashing my head face-first through the register monitor in an explosive corona of sparks and wires. Experiencing a massive apoplectic fit in the middle of a particularly aggravating transaction and dropping to the floor twitching and foaming.
I don’t know why my customer revenge scenarios end in my own destruction. I imagine it’s because sudden death would completely eliminate any consequences the way running away after scrabbling over the counter to strangle someone would not. “You’re a jerk? Well, I’m dead! Huzzah!”
Not that I’m counting on any feelings of remorse or compassion to come of it. “Oh mummy, a simply awful day at the market. The shop girl pushed in her eyes with her own thumbs and sprayed blood all over Chas’s tennis whites. And then the ambulance blocked in the Escalade!”
This is the point where I say, most of the customers have been great. I have an extra-super-happy face I wear behind the counter and it works. I connect with people, I surprise them by smiling, I’m able to joke around with some of the regulars. A customer told me last week he wanted to tell my boss I was “the best.” So I’m doing my job, and I’m doing it well. But I’m afraid of the summer.
About a month back a blond woman in a suit and heels wandered around the store picking up items to add to the steadily-growing grocery pile on the counter. We have hand baskets. We have shopping carts. I gave her the benefit of the doubt; maybe she came in for one or two things and accidentally began shopping in earnest. This unfolded during the daily lunch rush, when the car salesmen, contractors, mechanics, guys in state work trucks and landscapers come in for their sandwiches and specials. I see these guys almost daily (and internally wish I could present them with a weekly tally: “Do you see what you are spending?? Thank you, but really! That’s gas out of your truck!”). They’re nice guys. They let little old ladies with a single hot dog and a newspaper cut in front of them. They wait patiently without complaining to one another or rolling their eyes when we’re backed up – They wait in line.
I sized up the suit, the heels, the hair and the sunglasses and activated my Power of the English Major: Focus, Short Fiction to write her next move. I’m a good writer: She stood by her pile of groceries expectantly, waiting for me to serve her ahead of the three guys waiting in line while she milled about. No way, lady. I rang through her order after the men who were waiting. $85, sure, but each of those guys spends some $20 – $30 a week, every week, not just in the summer. She can wait her turn.
During closing that night I told my coworker about the incident and she grimaced. “Oh, I know who you’re talking about. Don’t let her get away with that.”
Here’s the significance of that sentence (Activate: Interpretive Reading!): This woman does this every year. She has no tact, or she honestly thinks she’s better than the people following the unspoken rules of common courtesy around her. And that just kills me.
We got into a conversation the other night about adult men and women and entitlement: The man dressing down a Starbucks barista-in-training over a mistake to the tune of a nickel. The man who refuses to turn off his laptop during takeoff announcements. The man who has to have the window seat in the front of the plane, making two people already seated move so he can sidle in and hold up the line of incoming passengers DURING EMERGENCY TAKEOFF PROCEDURES. Everyone is so certain the world stops for him or for her, and there’s no empathy left. No common courtesy or compassion.
It makes me crazy. It surprises people when I say ‘please’ when I announce their total and tell them to have an excellent day. Why shouldn’t we want other people to have excellent days? Why shouldn’t we wait in line, goddammit, like human beings? I’d write a conclusion to this, but I chugged a bottle of Windex in someone’s face earlier this evening after she fondled all the bread in the case with her bare hands before buying a 50-cent roll, and I’m not thinking too clearly. More blue-ly.