A Short Story Based Off a Short Moment
This basically happened. I didn’t catch all of it verbatim, no, but the awkward little moment is essentially rendered as-is. Or as-was, rather. We’ve all had these moments, and usually we let go of them, as we should. But this one stuck around in my mind, so finally I went ahead and let it sear its place even deeper by writing it out.
An Old Dog
You want to talk about Left Field? About something coming right the hell out of Left Field? Get this: so I’m in a pharmacy the other day, drugstore/convenience store kind of place, not like a medicine-only kind of place (who goes to those, anyway?), and I’m buying, Christ, what was it, even, it was something so goddamn insipid, like literally tissues I think. Anyway, and I’m walking toward the counter, and on the ground is one of those long plastic mats with the outline of feet on it every eighteen inches or so and then a curve at one end with an arrow pointing toward the cashiers and the words WAIT HERE above a red line, this all with the intention that blisteringly stupid people will look down and think: “Ah, I’m supposed to form a line and then go up to the cashier(s) after the people in front of me have gone up to the cashier(s).”
Anyway. So I’m walking down this little strip of foot outline-demarcated PVC toward the WAIT HERE line to wait my turn, standup citizen that I am, and from one of the aisles—let’s call it the Hallmark Cards aisle, because it was, I think—this seriously old man comes bearing down on that WAIT HERE line at a pace that says Fuck That, and he’s pushing a shopping cart, which is always weird in this place, because it’s not a grocery store, and usually you forget they even have carts, but anyway, so this guy blasts past WAIT HERE and instead he waits where he wants to (THERE, I guess) inches behind a woman who was already at the cashier counter.
Now, me? I’m more than patient enough to WAIT HERE even when some old guy cuts me off. In fact, even if it had been a young guy, I probably would have mumbled to myself “Pick your battles” and convinced myself that was righteousness, right there, but this guy was old as a motherfucker so case closed. The woman who had already waited her turn and made it up to the main event — paying — was paying with cash which she had not thought to maybe get out of her wallet which she had not thought to maybe get out of her purse and so on down the line; long story short it was taking a while.
But that gave me some time to study the ancient interloper.
Double hearing aids, the kind so lacking in subtlty they’re almost a fashion statement; a statement saying “I have giant gobs of Silly Putty in my ears, what are you gonna do about it?” A hat that (I think said so let’s just say it) said something like “USN Retired” and likely listed a ship’s name and some numbers. Definitely a hat, one way or the other. Big beige vest with lots of pockets, likely none of them sporting lures or sinkers. Red-and-black-checkered flannel. Khakis, of course, and a cloth belt, of course, and no definition of a waist or gluteus maximus or even knees. One can only imagine the near-hairless, sunless dowels, which, imagined or not, ran down into black orthopedic shoes on a new level of awful.
Slow Paying Woman leaves, and then this is where it really happened, the whole Out of Left Field thing. See, the old guy, what he has in this shopping cart is one bag of chocolates, the kind of individually wrapped Hershey’s mini-bars that any decent Old Ameican Person always has handy in their place of residence, and that I guess he was fresh out them and it was goddamned urgent, this situation. Anyway, that’s all that’s in the cart, this one bag of chocolates, net weight at the absolute maximum and factoring in the foil and plastic packaging… seventeen ounces. Max. And he takes this one bag in one crotchety hand, the back of which is like a Jackson Pollack, is all I can think, and BAM, old fucker positively throws the chocolate sack down on the counter.
And then BAM, the other crotchety claw slams down a coupon. And then he straightens back up, and he looks right at the cashier (forty five, brunette, 5’5”, 175 LBS, ethnically not quite white, beyond that not sure, ugly), and he says without saying it: Make my fucking day.
Cashier Lady says: “Sir, that coupon is a store coupon for—”
“That is a manufacturer’s coupon! It is a MANUFACTURER’S… COUPON! And if you don’t know that then you shouldn’t be a damn cashier!”
Pause. Total shock. From all of us (there were now a few others with their feet where their feet belonged standing behind me). Old Fucker waits about four seconds, then:
“Now ring it up! RING IT UP! Use that coupon and ring it UP!”
“Sir, if there was any way the computer would let me—”
“Get me the GODdamn manager! You shouldn’t be a damn cashier! I have over five YEARS of experience in this!”
Whatever that meant, we’ll never know. Five years of messing with almost-middle-aged cashiers? Experience with coupons? Coupons that really, dude, really clearly say another store’s name right on the top there, dude. Sir. Anyway, she walks off because she has to, it’s her job not to say “eat some shit” or to throw the fucking chocolates in his face (not that that, y’know, not that that would have been actually OK, sure) or any of it, she can’t stand up for herself, it’s her job not to.
But I can. We can, we of the feet on the WAIT HERE mat.
But… we don’t. I don’t.
I think to say: “Sir, maybe try acting like a gentleman.” And I think to say: “Sir, I’m going to buy you those chocolates, and I never use coupons, but no worries, I’ll pay full freight! Just put them here by my tissues and we’ll be all set, no problems!” and things like that but I don’t do a thing. I don’t do a thing because I guess it’s not my place, and because I’m 97.9% sure that would have resulted in a summary “fuck off and mind your own business, you little punk!” even though I’m taller than average and more than old enough for that not to fly, but really I can’t start responding to that retort because no retort occurred because I did nothing. None of us did.
A second cashier (forty, brunette, 5’4”, 162 LBS, ethnically Latino/Hispanic, beyond that not sure, ugly) opened up another register and I paid for the tissues and got the hell out of there. And I assume all the other people did, too. I figure in five, maybe ten years, that old fucker will be dead, and I figure the rest of us won’t be, the rest of us who were right there at that awful little intersection of our little lives, and probably we’ll still be waiting, still holding our tongues.