So I'm third in a four-person line to get my groceries scanned at Ralphs grocery store in Beverly Hills.
"Put it down, put your stuff down, it's ready," a woman yelled behind me. She had jolted me from my peaceful study of candy bars and gift cards. I turned to see. She was old, scarfed, hunched-over and white. (Her color is pertinent later.) Everyone within 30 feet turned to see.
The clerk had scanned a six-pack of Heineken from it for the guy at the front of the line triggering eight inches of new conveyor belt.
The woman pointed at the new eight-inch spot still wet with that long-gone shopper's produce moisture that I always think is absolutely disgusting. in my basket I carried some milk, a head of lettuce, bread and a few other things that might fit on the skimpy conveyor belt spot -if I stacked them -carefully. What's with her urgency? Why is she yelling at me? Does she think my fingers hurt from carrying the basket? Is she "special" -so that I should be sensitive to some cognitive challenge of hers? I considered all these possibilities before she chided me some more.
"Hurry up, would ya?" she said louder. More people looked to see what my problem was. I'll be honest, my first inclination was to snuff her audacity by matching her volume with "No." Or I could provoke her more by ignoring her. But my early home training about respect for the elderly forbade that. Plus, elderly women who are willing to yell at strangers in public can rarely be intimidated unless you are willing to cross a line that I won't. Shock & awe simply doesn't work with them.
"Go, go, go," she pounded fist on the open strip of conveyor belt where I was failing to build a small grocery tower for her. I saw her other fingers tighten on her purse and, for a moment, I seriously thought she might take a swing at my disobedient backside.
"Hurry, he's getting ready to quit," she yelled. She "penguined", leaning back and forth, trying to see the grocery-scanning progress.
I turned to face her at her and bit my lip, half trying not to laugh and half trying to resist cussing her crooked scarf off. Just a minute." I said, holding up my hand. I hoped the conveyor belt would hurry and move so I could avoid the words my by tongue begged to share.
"NO! Hurry! Put your things down he's going to quit and leave!" she hollered.
"Look---" I said, teeth clenched.
"Hey beautiful," the clerk chimed in, interrupting me. He was young black man, maybe early thirties. "I'm not going anywhere until I help you, beautiful." he leaned far forward to make eye contact with her.
She beamed. I got it. She was in love and/or strung out with jungle fever. Her object of affection/dealer had given her a sample of the longer fix she'd get when it was her turn to be face to face with him, gazing into his eyes over the grocery scanner. I imagined the stores light dimming and candles lighting.
I caught the clerk's eye and rolled my eyes as hard as I possibly could without dislodging a contact. My harassment ended while, behind me, the old lady basked in her buzz with the promise of being reunited with her Ralphs clerk.
"I thought I'd miss you darling," she said to him. I shut the rest of the conversation out by focusing hard on the possible bacteria count in the water pooled on the conveyor belt.
I don't care if you are drunk with infatuation, rudeness has no excuse.
Tact is magic. If she had simply said:
Excuse me, sir. Do you mind if I go ahead of you? You see, I'm crushing hard on that striking black clerk I see up there and I'm hopelessly strung out on his untrue compliments so I desperately need to get some of him before he leaves in two minutes.
I would have tipped my hat, swapped places with her and probably offered to help her stack her items on the tiny conveyor belt space -so she could make it in time.
I consider myself a rather uptight person. As I drove home, I considered that our most prominent fears and concerns often become exaggerated in us in old age. This thought didn't make me feel any warm glow of future tolerance for the compliment-starved old lady in the supermarket. The thought didn't console me at all. It made me scared for all who will have to deal with me if I'm fortunate enough to reach old age.