The other day, I was in one of my favorite local markets, Piedmont Grocery, paying way too much for groceries. I realize that in itself is a privilege, a luxury, a splurge, whatever you want to call it. I could have saved money at a big supermarket but I hate big supermarkets generally. Living in a city plagued by food deserts, I know what a privilege it is that I can choose where to shop. If you don’t know what a food desert is, you might not be paying attention to issues of social justice and access to basic resources.
But that’s beside the point.
As the checker was scanning my items and politely not saying anything about the amount of chocolate in my cart, the courtesy clerk, aka bagger, was pondering how to get my purchases into my tote bags and back into the cart in the best way. He seemed to be putting an inordinate amount of thought into it, and asking me my opinion. As I’ve gotten older, I am much more prone to chatting with the people helping me in stores. I used to shy away from it, but I actually find those conversations easier sometimes than ones with family and friends.
Many of the stores in this area hire those with intellectual disabilities, which is pretty cool. When I was growing up, baggers were called bag boys and were usually teenage boys working for tips, and they always pushed your cart to your car and loaded them in the trunk. My mother had a terrible time when tips were no longer accepted for this job. For years she kept trying to tip the baggers, and when one finally politely told her he’d get fired if he took the tip, she finally got the point and quit trying to give them money.
Anyway, the gentleman bagging my purchases compared packing the bags to playing Tetris.
I used to play Tetris back in the day on my old black and white Mac, usually when I should have been writing my master’s thesis back in the early 1990s.
I said something about me not being that good at Tetris, and that he was probably a lot better at it than me, when he said something to the effect that he could do Tetris with the groceries really well but if he took too long he’d have angry customers. To which I said, without thinking, “I don’t get angry.” He looked at me in astonishment and asked me if I really never get angry. In the moment and in that situation, I honestly replied that I don’t get angry.
Maybe because it was my day off, or maybe because I started the day having coffee with a dear friend, or maybe because I went to get my flu shot prepared to wait for hours and I only waited about 5 minutes, but waiting to have my groceries nicely packed seemed like a no stress situation in which I could wait a few seconds here and there so as not to the tomatoes smashed.
Yes, I get angry. Angry at the world situation, angry at particular people in power, angry at injustice, angry at animal cruelty. But angry in my day to day life? Not so much. That wasn’t always true. I’ve fumed and sworn at the silliest things.
I got it in my head at one point that I needed to learn to stand up for myself, which was true. But my first foray into that was to send my food back to the kitchen at a restaurant because my veggie enchiladas were in red sauce, and not the green sauce I ordered. I thought I would be being a doormat if I just accepted it and ate it. That’s what one of my companions did; he’d ordered the red sauce and gotten the green on his chicken enchiladas. A simple mistake in our orders. He took it in stride and graciously ate his enchiladas. I like red sauce. I had a hankering for green sauce that day, but I could have eaten the red. I’ve briefly (thank goodness, only briefly) worked in food service, and I know how hard it is, and how picky customers can ruin the day. I also hate to waste food. For about a minute I was proud of myself for sending the plate back, but ever since I’ve felt like a jerk.
So is accepting delays and small mistakes taking the high road or being a doormat? I’ve also fallen into the doormat category. Not as much anymore. In a weird way I’ve achieved a balance between accepting life as it comes and standing up for myself.
There are lots of refrigerator magnets and other stuff that reflect what I am trying to say. Numerous people have written self-help books that may or may not have helped anyone but probably made the author some money.
You want to pass me on the highway to get where you are going a few seconds ahead of me? Fine, go ahead. Training a new cashier at the coffee bar and it might take a little longer? Great, and congratulations and good luck with the new job. I’m not in such a hurry that I have to glare at you and mutter at you under my breath while you are trying to learn on the job. At the end of the day, I have to live with myself, and I don’t want to be the angry customer, the a–hole driver, the person who causes a scene or holds up everyone else while counting my change or arguing with courtesy clerks. And I do live a life of privilege, a fact that I try not to take for granted.
I have more important things to worry about. Like saving the world. Or at least making my little part of it a better place.
Peace and hugs.