Recently, I was at the grocery store. I’d just scored through the place, getting what I needed in the midst of a busy day, having a lovely conversation with the dude in the supplements section (at my acupuncturist’s suggestion, I’m trying magnesium to help me sleep and battle my restless leg, and the employee was awesome, guiding my way to the perfect brand, and it didn’t happen to be the most expensive).
I get to the checkout, and only one line is open, so there are four people waiting in it, this includes me.
Suddenly, this gray-headed dude comes barreling up to the checkouts, and as he does, an employee heads behind another cash register. He circles into that one, rather than saying to the four of us standing in line, “Hey, they’re opening another checkout. You were all here before me. Do one of you want to go first?” He just looked at the folks standing in line (and, oh yes, he looked at us), then headed right in.
Now, it isn’t like I’m urgently needed to perform emergency surgery. I mean, obviously, that was a dick move, but there are dicks out there. As such, I shake it off.
Alas for this guy, the employee wasn’t going behind the register to open it, but to grab something. Thus, this dude had to get in line behind me.
The line dwindles, and the belt has—and this is no joke—about four inches of free space on it from the person in front of me getting rung up.
At this juncture, the dude behind me snaps, “Move it along.”
I could barely fit a carton of yogurt in the free space on the damn belt.
I am also not dallying on my phone, or filing my nails, or flirting with the hot, super-tall guy who clearly works for Instacart who’s in line in front of me. I’m paying attention. I just haven’t moved because there’s not enough space to put my groceries on the belt.
I turn to him and stare daggers at him, begin to turn away…
And then something happens.
My brain is suffused with a number of epiphanies all at once.
It occurs to me I will never see this man again, and as such, he does not matter to me.
It occurs to me that his hurry is not my problem. If his wife is having a heart attack, he wouldn’t be at Sprouts. If his daughter is in the throes of delivering a baby, again, he would not be at Sprouts. And if either of these things were happening, and he really needed to get through that line, he can use his words and explain that to me. I would happily get out of his way so he could get to his wife or daughter (or whatever).
It occurs to me that in polite society, you don’t snap at a stranger waiting in a grocery store line, “Move it along,” unless they’re significantly dawdling.
No, I’m wrong. Even if they are, you don’t do that. If they don’t eventually get with the program when, say, there’s plenty of space available for them to start emptying their cart and the customer ahead of them is walking away, you find a kinder, gentler way to get their attention and share the line is moving, maybe they might want to move with it.
It occurs to me that I’m nobody’s bitch, and I do not exist for you to hang your shit on me.
It also occurs to me that I do not have to race up to the belt to make this rude stranger happy.
Last, it occurs to me I have a mouth, so I should use it.
At that point, I look him dead in the eye, and in an icy, venomous voice, I command, “Chill…OUT!”
I then mosey to the belt, and when there’s enough space, I begin to put my groceries on it.
When I look again, the dude is gone. Vanished. Like he spontaneously combusted. I check the entire area, he’s not at the self-checkout, he’s nowhere. He’s either left without checking out, or he’s run and hid.
A telling response.
Now, I didn’t threaten him or yell at him. I also didn’t curse at him (which is a shock, since my mouth is not the cleanest). I simply told him to chill out.
But in his 60+ years of life, this bully has probably never, or very rarely, had anyone look him in the eye and call him on his shit. And to be honest, it’s likely no woman has ever done it, just as it’s highly likely that if I were a man, he would never have told me to move it along.
For you young ’uns, Towanda is the alter ego of Evelyn, the heroine of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, a brilliant novel by Fannie Flag that had an amazing movie adapted from it. (If you haven’t, read the book, then watch the film—but have tissues handy for both.)
Towanda is a woman who’s lived enough life, and eaten so much shit during it, she’s realized the fucks she has to give have run out. Therefore, Towanda takes no more shit. Towanda comes to the understanding you can be a good, caring person and not be a doormat.
Towanda is the shizzlesticks.
In that moment, I became Towanda.
Now, I’m no pushover and never have been. But I tend to err on the side of, “What would my mom make of my behavior?” If the answer is, “Not much,” I rein it in. I also don’t like conflict, and worry what people think of me…yes, even strangers. It’s a good trait to have, it keeps shitty behavior in check.
That said, my mom was no pushover either.
Of course, I can think back on this situation: Could I have asked, “I’m sorry, is there an emergency you need to get to, sir? If so, the self checkouts will probably go a lot faster for you.”
But that’s a trained response. That’s a response of apologizing when you did nothing wrong. That’s a response of being put on the defensive when you’re simply standing in a grocery checkout line, waiting your turn, and someone injects aggression into your life where it 100% is not appropriate.
Eventually, you reach an age in life where you realize that standing up for yourself is actually standing up for a whole load of other people too. I can have no idea, but my guess would be, that man will reconsider opening his mouth the next time someone is reminding him the universe doesn’t revolve around him. He’ll then do what he should do. Keep his silence and wait his damned turn.
Am I saying confront every sour geezer who’s acting like an asshole? Nope.
Am I saying, if someone verbally (or otherwise) treats you—a human being with your own life, daily tasks and priorities—like you’re an irritating obstacle in his, and you feel like calling him on his garbage, do it?
People fear aging. Full disclosure, I do too.
But little by little, I’m learning that this aging thing is a damn sweet gig. You start to get it. The pieces begin to fit together. And the supplement savant who stops stocking the shelves in order to offer his knowledge, experience and compassion is worth your energy.
The dicks out there…?
Well, they’re obviously not.
But when they inject themselves negatively into your day, they are worth hearing the honesty that they aren’t.