I try not to be that guy—the angry, impatient guy deeply affronted because you’re taking too long at whatever you’re doing, preventing him from getting on with his business. Ideally I wish that I could have the zen-like patience of a taoist monk. Taking what is happening in stride. Using the extra time I’m stuck waiting in line someone to think about things, or enjoy some music, or maybe play a little game on my phone.
But sometimes you are just tired, hungry, and sore. You just want to get finished with your errand and get home. So when something happens that holds you up, it’s hard to smile an wait patiently.
I came into work yesterday to some upsetting news about an oversight in a project we had just finished. An oversight that I and at least two other people ought to have caught, but didn’t. An oversight directly involved in my part of the project. We have a few days to fix things, and we quickly hammered together a plan, but it still meant that I spent the day doing something very different than I had planned, with more than a slight sense of urgency.
And I had to leave early for an end-of-the-day dentist appointment, which meant that I would be setting up my work computer after getting home from having the scary man
attacking me with medieval implements drill and fill my teeth, and be productive for a few more hours. The dental appointment took longer than scheduled. An extra injection of novocaine had been required after a bit of stabbing pain happened partway through the second tooth. I just wanted to go home and collapse.
But I had the work to do. And I had two prescriptions that needed to be picked up. And a few other things that we needed at the store. Once I had picked everything up, I came to the front of the store and there were four registers open. Three had three people in line. One had only two. So I went for that one.
The person in front of me was a tiny little old man with a great bush of silver hair. His shopping cart contained only one item: a 20-ish pound bag of dry cat food. The kid working the register was just handing the customer in front of Cat Food Guy her receipt and wishing her a nice night as I got in line.
The kid rung up the bag of cat food. Cat Food Guy handed the kid a couple coupons and his Store Card. The kid scanned those, then told the man price of four dollars and change. Cat Food Guy nodded, then searched his pockets until he produced a rumpled check book. Not a checkbook in a nice leather or plastic cover, just the bound bundle of checks. He had to search his pockets some more until he found a little rectangle of cardboard to slip under the carbon copy. Then he started writing the check.
Cat Food Guy muttered something about what day it was. The kid told him the date. Cat Food Guy stopped writing, looked up, and asked (well, really more of a bark than a simple question), “What did you say?” The kid repeated the date. Cat Food Guy said, “I know what day it is!” The kid apologized.
Cat Food Guy bent and started writing again for a millisecond. He stopped, looked up and said. “I’m just a little hard of hearing. Not angry or anything. People always assume I’m angry or having a bad day. I’m not. Just couldn’t hear you.”
The kid says he understands and apologizes again.
Cat Food Guy bends down again, but this time he doesn’t even get his pen back on the paper. He looks back up and says, “People don’t even ask anyone how their day is, any more, you know? They just assume!”
The kid says. “I’m sorry. How has your week been?”
Cat Food Guy, who had just started writing again, stops, looks up, and barks, “What did you say?”
“Just asking how you’ve been. Sorry, I’ll stop interrupting.”
Cat Food Guy shrugs, then goes back to writing. He tears off the check and hands it to the kid.
While the kid is typing on the register, Cat Food Guy babbles some about getting old, not being able to hear, and so on.
The kid nods while he’s working. He puts the check in the part of the register that is supposed to print on it, and pushes a button. The register spits the check back out. The kid says, “I must have done something wrong.” He pushes some more buttons, puts the check in, and this time the machine takes it. “There we go… oh, wait, now it wants me to check your ID.”
Eventually the kid gets Cat Food Guy’s driver’s license, and tries to type in the license number, while squinting and apparently having a very hard time reading the license. Cat Food Guy is babbling something about a problem he had on the bus or something. I couldn’t really follow the gist of it.
The kid hands the license back and says, “That should do it.” And he presses another button. The register makes some noises. The kid frown. “Uh oh.”
“What?” Cat Food Guy asks.
“I may have spoken too soon,” the kid says. “I haven’t seen that message before…”
He looks up to see if the assistant manager in the next register is free. He’s not. There has been a steady stream of customers through all the registers except ours while I’ve been waiting.
“I’ll just have to ask the man—” the kid begins.
“You know what,” Cat Food Guy says. “Never mind. Just give me back my check. I don’t need this that badly.”
The kid is stunned. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I’m sure it’s just something I did wrong.”
“Not your fault,” Cat Food Guy says. “Not at all! It’s just the damn machines, all trying to take over our lives.”
He snatches the check and stomps away leaving his big shopping cart and giant bag of cat food smack in my way.
The kid looks at me and says, “I’m so sorry. Just a minute.” He gets the bagging gal to take the cart away while he takes the bag of cat food and scans it again to void the sale. He gets the assistant manager’s attention. “I’ll need you to verify the voided sale.”
Without even looking away from his own scanning, he tosses the kid a ring of keys with several laminated cards. The kid hits some buttons and scans one of the cards.
Cat Food Guy comes stomping back from nowhere. “You know what?” he declares loudly. “You can tell them to take this back and shove it! I don’t need to shop here ever again!” He slaps his store card on the counter.
The kid looks hurt. “I’m really, sorry, sir!”
“Not your fault,” Cat Food Guy says, suddenly all smiles. “It’s just those machines and the damn company!” And he storms off again.
The kid gets the manager’s attention again. “I don’t think I did it right.”
Manager steps over, looks at the register, and says. “Sure you did. Just hit enter again. See?” Then he notices the store card sitting on the counter. “What’s this? Did someone forget their card?”
The kid shakes his head. “The customer got very frustrated because it was taking so long, so now he says he doesn’t want to shop here any more. I don’t know what I should do.”
Manager rolls his eyes and expertly throws the little plastic card past the kid and into the wastebasket. “Not our problem.” And he goes back to his register.
The kid keeps apologizing while he quickly scans and bags my stuff.
I tried extra hard to be pleasant and assure him he has nothing to apologize for. Because he didn’t. I kept hoping that I wasn’t scowling or something earlier, because I had been getting pretty cranky.
I don’t blame the kid. He seemed a bit tentative at some tasks on the register with Cat Food Guy, but only at some tasks that I assume aren’t very common. For my stuff he was very fast and efficient.
I probably shouldn’t blame Cat Food Guy as much as I do. What he contributed to the delay was at least partly due to his hearing problem. I have a hard enough time trying to talk to Michael in the store, the noise from the overhead music and other customers talking can be quite overwhelming. And checks are the way we paid for everything for decades. The fact that almost none of us do anymore, that the procedures for processing them are longer and more involved that cash or swiping a debit card isn’t his fault.
Goddess knows I’ve been angry and said things to people who weren’t to blame for what I was angry about. I’m sure I’ve stomped angrily out of a place of business more times than I’d like to admit.
I think the most disconcerting thing was how Cat Food Guy kept switching demeanor. He would bark a sentence in a tone that I think any reasonable person would describe as angry or annoyed. Then turn all smiles the next sentence. I think most telling was how he said, “People always assume I’m angry or having a bad day.” If this is how he normally acts, I can see why people assume that.
I eventually got home. Michael cooked dinner while I got my workstations set up. I worked for a few hours. Sent chapters off for people to review. I goofed off a bit before going to bed. Had a really good night’s sleep.
I hope whatever poor kitty was waiting for food isn’t starving because her hard-of-hearing and cranky owner has stomped out of more stores empty-handed.