(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/ I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress. Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)
There will come a time in everyone’s life when the crushing weight of a vast and uncaring Lovecraftian cosmos will bear down on you. Like Job of old, your every move will be stymied, your every hope crushed. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, rest assured – like a particularly vicious game of Duck Duck Goose, it will come to you eventually.
Don’t dwell on it. Just accept the truth of inexorable fate steamrolling you and have a scone.
Just so we’re clear, the scone won’t help in any way. It’ll just remind you that you could bought a moist tasty muffin instead of a nasty dry scone. Then you’ll curse the British for inflicting this fate on you, and cursing the British for their pastries makes for a good distraction from your horrifying future.
See, everything has a purpose, even scones.
Today, my exorable damnation took the form of a middle-aged man ahead of me in the 12 Items or Less aisle at the grocery store. More specifically, the daemonic form of a middle-aged man carting a muckle of groceries – I didn’t count, but the damned cart was full to the brim – without the slightest consideration for those of us who didn’t want to stand in line until 2019 to purchase a few necessities. He’d slipped in just ahead of me, practically at a run, barely avoiding clipping me in the process.
Strangulation seemed singularly too kind a fate for such a vile and cartoonish villain. I only mention this because I briefly considered strangling him in the name of justice and goodwill toward men. At some point, I knew deep in my soul, this man would cause hundreds of deaths in an orphanage fire because he cut off a nun trying to buy a fire extinguisher. It just felt inevitable, and keep feeling more and more inevitable as I glaringly examined his cart.
He had easily thirty-five plus items. While I didn’t actually count, I estimated pretty accurately. None of them were larger than a box of saltines, and with the cart filled to the top, thirty-five was on the deeply conservative side. Trust me, I was born in the Mississippi Delta, so I’m quite familiar with deeply conservative.
I, incidentally, had eight. Yes, the number after seven and before nine. If there’s another ‘eight’ that exceeds ‘twelve’ that I’m unfamiliar with, rest assured I’m not referring to that one.
I actually counted my own items twice as part of my planned defense to the jury were I to go ahead and strangle the man. Eight was almost low enough that I could convincingly argue that not only was the strangulation justified, it was actually a moral imperative of the sort that any civilized society would have encoded into law before they ever got to the stuff about killing and stealing and selling booze on Sunday.
Not quite low enough, though. Seven? probably. Six? absolutely. But I wanted every single item in my basket and couldn’t bear to part with even one of them to lower the number to seven, let alone six. I needed those olives, dammit, for my own unspeakable but highly pleasurable purposes.
Not that any of this mattered. Eight items is already less than – or, rather, fewer than – twelve items. Did the math twice, just in case my biases were showing through. Eight items remained fewer than twelve items, even when I accounted for the four separate bananas that constituted the collective bunch I’d picked out. That came out to eleven, which cannot be construed in any fashion as greater than twelve.
So, heady with the rush of doing some math, I decided to do even more math. As the man removed items from his basket, he examined each one at length, as if puzzled at how this particular box of laxatives fit into his personal worldview. I was tempted to explain the connection there, using my cursory understanding of scatology and exactly where his head currently resided. Instead, I calculated how long this process would take. My best estimate: one year, three weeks, two days, eleven hours, and an indeterminate number of minutes. Then I calculated the average length of a murder two sentence. Relying on very scanty knowledge of the criminal justice system, I arrived at a figure of seventeen years, four months. Then I subtracted ten years for the sense of satisfaction I would gain from strangling the man.
Sadly, even after that deduction, violence seemed to lead to the least pleasant of the possible outcomes.
The reason I chose this aisle was pretty straightforward. The cashier knew me from many previous trips to this store. She knew about my hearing loss and that trying to hold a conversation with me would require more time and effort available to either of us at 5:30 in the afternoon during the pre-dinner rush.
Not a big deal, really, at the time. Her lane was open. I had an appropriate number of items, and I figured it would simplify my egress so I could go home, put the stuff away, and head to the coffee shop. So I just took five steps (also fewer than twelve, for those of you who care) forward to enter her lane and get on with my life.
So, quite understandably, I found the Completely Lacking in Math and Basic Human Decency Skills Guy’s behavior even more aggravating than it otherwise would have been.
Nevertheless, I came to the inevitable conclusion that there was nothing to be done for it unless I wanted to go through the bother of a lengthy trial for murder two, and lengthy trials rarely end up like you dreamed they would when you were a starry-eyed child hoping to be acquitted of a very scandalous (but entirely-justified) strangulation event. I glanced around at the other aisles. For such a busy time, remarkably few aisles had been opened. Exactly three, in fact, including the one I currently stood in. One looked a bit too lethargic for my tastes. Translation: mostly older sorts, people who were likely quite nice but also likely to insist on balancing their checkbook and possibly exploring the virtues of reverse mortgages while paying for their groceries. So I took the other one, which seemed reasonably populated by people who’d share my love of getting the hell out of the grocery store with all due haste so long as a basic level of safety was maintained. Such lovely-looking people, and I’m not just saying that because of the appearance of impatience to get this over with.
Actually, I am just saying it for that reason. There’s nothing wrong with that. Situational beauty is still beauty, right?
I took my place at the end of the line. While I cannot now recall exactly how many people were in line – I didn’t know at the time that I’d need to recollect all the details of my little adventure there – I reached the cashier in a little over ten minutes. My items placed safely on the belt, my basket placed on the other side of the bagging area, my soul stuffed back down in a place where it could be free of thoughts of strangulation, I pulled out my wallet and a credit card and proceeded to look expectantly at the cashier.
The cashier seemed to be new, or at least I’d never seen him before. A nice enough looking fellow who took care of my groceries with the proper speed and accuracy. I stood poised to insert said card into the card reader as the cashier scanned the last of my groceries (the aforementioned bananas, if anyone is insanely curious) and pressed some appropriate part of the screen to indicate the scanner was currently evaluating bananas.
I gave him a small, friendly smile as he caught my eye, and started to look down at the card in my hand.
I say ‘started,’ because meeting his gaze had been a huge mistake. He apparently took that as an invitation to ask me something.
I say ‘something’ because his attempts to ask me a question had been a huge mistake. He apparently really, really wanted an answer because he simply refused to finish the calculation of the final total until I offered him a satisfactory reply.
I say ‘refused’ because he absolutely would not let go of his question.
This is how it went down:
“I’m sorry, I have severe hearing loss. I can’t understand you.”
A quite reasonable interjection into the flow of this nascent conversation, I felt, given the circumstances. My pride at constructing those two sentences on the fly might have been unreasonable, but they were nevertheless appropriate. Direct, to the point, grammatically sound, and completely free of unnecessary metaphors.
This did not in any way satisfy him. Not even in the slightest.
Various subtle clues led me to this conclusion. The most obvious one was the fact that he proceeded to immediately repeat himself. Luckily, I am in possession of a prodigious intellect, so the significance of this clue did not escape me. He clearly wasn’t going to accept such a facile and pointless contribution from me to the conversation and just as clearly demanded that I stop screwing around and just answer the damned question.
One deep breath later, I took a quick inventory of the possible things he might be asking.
My grocery items were all firmly bagged in plastic. I didn’t even see any paper bags as an alternative, and rebagging my groceries at this late point in the game seemed ridiculous anyway.
Unless Earl Grey teabags I bought had been declared a controlled substance at some point in the week since I last purchased a box of them, none of these grocery items required a picture ID.
The card reader took care of asking if I wanted to do debit or credit. Just so you won’t be surprised by my choice when I describe it later, I would have chosen debit. You know, had he been kind enough to just finish totaling the price and giving me the option to stick my card into the slot.
I had not given him any reason to ask me on a date, so, disappointingly, that wasn’t likely to be the question. Granted, I would have turned him down on account of not being gay, but it would have been nice to be asked.
He hadn’t shoved a copy of the Book of Mormon in my face, so it seemed unlikely he was trying to recruit me to take a covered wagon to Utah.
Very unlikely, I calculated. But still possible.
It would be a cold day in hell before I got into a Mormon covered wagon without so much as a glimpse of all the sister-wives that would be made available to me. A cold damned day indeed.
So there was only one thing left to say in the matter of Random vs the possibly gay possibly Mormon possibly both cashier:
“I’m sorry, I have severe hearing loss. I can’t understand you.”
He looked visibly annoyed. I kept my expression blank, with just a touch of contriteness.
Somehow that gave him all the prodding he needed to ask the question again. I knew it was the same question because, while I couldn’t quite understand him, the movement of his lips and the vague sounds I could hear were exactly the same as the first two times.
I goggled at him. He just opened his eyes as wide as he could and waited for my reply.
The standoff seemed to be reaching epic proportions. Not since Gilgamesh challenged Humbaba the forest spirit had such a resolute (perhaps even foolhardy) conflict of wills taken place. On one side, a cashier who wanted me to answer what seemed to be a very short and basic question. On the other side, me and my intense desire to just see this conversation ended so I could get my groceries – which included chilled perishables and dairy products – back home and safely inside whatever repository seemed most appropriate. Which, I emphasize again, included chilled perishables and dairy products, all of which would be best suited to being placed back inside a contraption of some sort that one could use to keep them chilled. As luck would have it, I possessed such a contraption. A refrigerator, some might call it, mainly because that’s exactly what it was. My life has been so much easier since the invention of this marvelous method of chilling items, but there was a catch – I had to get said items to the refrigerator in order for it to do its intended job.
Unfortunately, for all the modern conveniences of this new world of ours, science has yet to develop a reliable system for transferring items into such a contraption from the site of an impasse in a grocery store checkout line a mile away.
Or had it? I briefly catalogued all the various and magical things my phone could accomplish that a phone circa, say, 1950 could not. Perhaps there existed an app, a program, a magical computer fairy specializing in quantum entanglement and teleportation methods that could solve this pressing issue for me.
Okay, no. That was a deeply stupid hope.
But in the absence of any possible escape to latch onto with all the desperate vim I could muster, deeply stupid hopes were my last resort.
It must be said, and probably has been said, that the number of times I reach the ‘last resort stupid thoughts’ stage in my daily life is quite excessive, if not downright soul-destroying.
Since the distance problem seemed irresolvable at this stage, and the stupid thoughts problem was simply an ongoing condition that had plagued me since my first words (Huh? and Derp, if I recall correctly) and would likely follow me into whatever afterlife I managed to earn, all I could do was repeat myself for the third time.
“I’m sorry, I have severe hearing loss. I can’t understand you.”
And he repeated himself for the fourth time. I carefully kept my face neutral as I sighed to myself. On the Day of Wrath, that Dies Irae where the quick and the dead are judged, they say we will face an accounting and recounting of all the moments of our lives.
If that happens, I have absolutely no doubt that recounting this conversation will put God Herself to sleep on the throne. Or irritate Her enough to banish both me and my erstwhile cashier to the Purgatory until we find a way to reach an some sort of peace with each other through yelling, screaming, heavy-duty roleplaying, and a melodramatic re-enactment of our battle of wills at the register.
Eschatological thoughts aside, the current situation remained unresolved. So I tried one more time.
“I’m sorr…” and I momentarily wondered what the hell I was sorry for.
On a basic level, I know perfectly well why I found myself compulsively apologizing. It’s been bred into me like kicks into a donkey. Can’t escape nurture entirely. Also, I’m naturally polite, and you can’t escape nature entirely. And then there’s the fact that I’m philosophically polite. Can’t escape…um, something something entirely. I’m polite not because I have to be, or because everyone deserves to be treated politely, but because I feel it helps make the world a better place. Sometimes you just have to cater to the really unpalatable types in order to make the day better for those who deserve to have a better day.
Incidentally, despite the fact that I began to engage in lengthy wondering, I completed the reply above:
“…y, I have severe hearing loss. I can’t understand you.”
Suddenly, after all the headache and heartache, after the long and weary road, after my very own pilgrim’s progress past Vanity Fair and through the Slough of Despond all the way to the Cupola of Disability, after many a lonesome mile, after the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me…finally, finally he gave up. The undisguised look of annoyance on his face didn’t bother me at all, any more than a torturer poking me with a needle while bending me on the rack would have.
Bigger issues, you see. Bigger issues.
Had I been in possession of illegal fireworks and/or illegal drugs, I would have celebrated the moment in a fashion that the people in line behind me would not soon forget. Sadly – or, more precisely, luckily – I had neither of these about my person at that exact moment. So I celebrated by finally inserting my card.
What little dignity he’d left me almost went away. Luckily, at the last second, I realized I was putting the wrong end in and rotated the card around to the chipped side.
Almost to the finish line. Almost, almost, almost.
I may have mentally chanted that word a few times. I won’t confirm I also mentally chanted a few less socially-acceptable words. You’ll just have to assume I did. Since you have no proof, I am denying any such thing ever happened and that’s that.
I pressed the appropriate buttons to confirm I wanted to charge it as a debit card. Then I requested $40 cash back, entered my PIN (why it didn’t ask for my PIN before asking if I wanted cash back, I have no idea), paused for the briefest second to ensure I’d entered the right PIN for that card, and finally ascertained I had, in fact, entered the proper sequence of numbers before pressing Enter. The metaphorical finish line glowing before me like a band of angels, I looked up expectantly. All told, the process took approximately 20 seconds from inserting the card to pressing the last number in my PIN. I could almost smell the sweet, sweet opium poppies of freedom on the breeze. I waited as the cashier finished up the cashierly stuff necessary to complete the transaction and the register drawer opened. He reached toward those stacks of cash. Almost…almost…and he stopped and looked at me.
My internal wail of despair turned into an internal high-pitched screech of incipient madness.
Just let my people go, my eyes begged. Let us follow our bliss, embrace our destiny, dance in a particularly upsetting rain, chase our fluffy clouds of ambition.
If he had even the slightest talent for translating the prolix motion of eyes into English words, he demonstrated none of it. His mouth opened and…yep, you guessed, he said something.
Seeing as he’d already demonstrated a complete inability to understand the various nuances of my glares, my eyes replied, Go to hell on the B-train express to the deepest pit.
My mouth, on the other hand, said, “I…okay, same problem as before. I’m sorry. I can’t understand you.” I took care to emphasize the ‘can’t’ on the off-chance that he thought I was refusing to understand him out of pure irrational dislike for him or his voice.
So what did he do? Yep, you guessed it. He apologized profusely, pulled out his phone, exchanged numbers with me, and engaged in a lengthy text discussion of our current predicament, culminating in a point by point explanation of his side of our entire interaction. Then he clocked out and we went out for coffee and beer together.
(Yes, I am being sarcastic. Why are we stating the obvious today? Are we playing a game of some sort?)
He. Repeated. Himself. Of course he did. This encounter could have ended no other way. I realize that now. The universe works according to a plan, and it was sure as hell not going to deviate from that plan just to save me an enormous amount of aggravation.
Then, in one shining moment, I guessed what he said and gave the universe a mental finger. He was asking what denominations I wanted. Most cashiers don’t bother asking, so I can be forgiven for not realizing this immediately.
So I said, “Doesn’t matter. I’ll take whatever collection of bills you can assemble so long as they add up to $40. Please.” I didn’t even add the ‘Please’ belatedly.
Even as I realized how snarky that sounded, I tried to keep my voice light and friendly.
I tried to feel bad about letting a bit of my serious aggravation with him slip into my reply. Instead, I told myself that he could have just given me two $20s on the very reasonable assumption that had I a particular preference, I would have told him so already, for the love of all that is holy.
I took the cash (two $20s, as it turned out), grabbed my bag, muttered a very quick “Thanks” and left the store with as much speed as I could muster without indulging in crazy power-walking movements.
For everyone wondering, and I know you are, I got my groceries home and put away. Then I got a well-earned cup of coffee and started writing this.
When they make the inevitable blockbuster Hollywood musical version of this, and you can rest assured they will, I want to be played by a tousled but lovable civet cat with good motor skills and mediocre fashion sense. Or Daniel Day-Lewis. Either will be acceptable. And because all great heroic epics need one, my love interest (who, and I cannot emphasize this enough, must not be the cashier) needs to be a lovely human brunette female with kind eyes, a graceful walk, and a good sense of humor. Also, an obvious predilection for civets and/or Daniel Day-Lewis would not be amiss.
You know what? Let’s stick with the civet. Daniel Day-Lewis would probably shiv his eardrums out of a misguided obsession with method acting.
Postscript: I should clarify that I hold no animosity toward the cashier. Whatever his life experiences had been up until that point, they probably hadn’t adequately prepared him for that situation. It happens.
Mr. Completely Lacking in Math and Basic Human Decency Skills Guy, on the other hand, needs to have some basic math and human decency skills smacked into him. That’s just not acceptable behavior in civilized society.