I’d picked up everything on my list at Costco, and on my way out I thought I’d walk by the book table to see what was there (Christmas is in less than three months’ time, you guys). Immediately my eyes fell on a box set of books I knew Liam would love, and (if you’re a kindred book lover, you’ll recognize this experience) I drifted to pick them up for a look as if the entire rest of the world had temporarily vanished. For all I knew, I floated there, I flew there, I vaporized and rematerialized with that book set in my hands. While enthralled in this approximately sixty-second rapture, a woman’s caustic voice cut through: “Is this your cart?” I looked up to find that, yes, this woman was addressing me, though her sunglasses indoors paired with a face covering gave me a moment’s hesitation, as did her tightly knotted neckerchief, and yes, she was in fact referencing my shopping cart that I’d left between the book table and a table covered in piles of loungewear when I’d been inexorably pulled away by the magnetism of new literature. “Yes,” I said, startled. “Why?”
“Because it’s blocking the way. It’s right in the way of EVERYONE.” I wish you could have heard the acid in her voice. Sure, my cart was totally in the middle of the aisle. Could another cart have maneuvered around it? Yes, thanks to Costco’s generously-sized everything, including space between displays, though it might have cost the cart’s driver an extra moment or two to manage the swerve-around. Still holding the books (don’t worry!), I promptly moved my cart and the woman pushed through, looking just where I don’t know because of those sunglasses, and when she’d passed, a woman folding inventory on the leisurewear table turned around and looked at me in horrified sympathy. I rolled my eyes in response (how great is it that we can convey these complicated expressions even while masked? And how many people now daily appreciate just how very powerfully and specifically eyes possess the ability to emote?!). When the sunglasses and neckscarf were out of earshot, the woman who’d shared my shock faced me fully, and I noticed her Costco nametag. “Why are people so rude?” she asked. I shook my head. “So sad,” I said, and she said, “I know! How hard is it just to politely ask someone to move a cart?”
We went on to have a conversation during which I told her that my first thought on the heels of the interaction was, ‘I’m glad my kids weren’t here to witness that example of adult unpleasantry’, which was immediately followed by ‘I wish my kids were here so I could use that as a teachable experience’. By now I’m quite familiar with the reactionary feelings of relief and regret coexisting within a moment, but it was interesting to share them as they were happening with this person who was at once a stranger and an ally. However, I’m not sure she understood what I meant when I said, “So sad,” which was this: I suspect that other woman must be so unhappy. And that makes me sad.
What kind of person is blatantly rude to strangers (especially during a worldwide pandemic)? What kind of person amplifies a small inconvenience in an effort to call public attention to another person’s mistake? What kind of person emanates unfriendliness energetically? The answer seems obvious: a person who’s unhappy in some deep and meaningful way. This woman, by the way, wasn’t someone with half her life left to enjoy, unfortunately; I’m guessing her age (again, it was difficult to discern much behind the facewear and the eyewear and the neckwear and the definitely dyed hair) was about 75. Taking all of this into account, it makes me think that this woman has been unhappy for very long time, and that’s what really struck me with a sadness. If we weren’t in this season of Covid, and if I’d been feeling particularly audaciously ambitious (perhaps empowered by the 20 oz. cup of Tropicana light lemonade I used to love sipping while trying samples throughout the store back in the recesses of 2019), I might have considered approaching this pillar of salt of a person, removing her sunglasses, and giving her a hug. At the very least, it would have been a fascinating interpersonal experiment. At the very best, she might have unfixed the snug knot in that scarf around her neck and waved it in the name of empowerment, then gone forth to purposefully change the frame of her world.
Ah, a woman can dream!