A Day in My Life, Thirteen Years Ago (End)


I went on to the grocery store, feeling a little exposed. I’d been unable to make a $6 purchase without having my selections announced and analyzed. I’d been unable to take the $6 purchase into another establishment without having myself and the items again noticed, coming and going. I figured I could make the last stop quick – a few cherries and apricots and a bottle or two of Perrier – a whisk through the express line before noon on a Sunday. But even that was not to be.

The store was relatively crowded. Both express lines were open and jammed. Another six regular registers were open too, and all had multiple customers.

I bagged a pound of cherries. I picked four firm apricots and one ripe avocado, and I left the produce section for the adjacent aisle, where they stock the beverages. In rounding the corner between those areas, I started to pass by a church-clad black woman. She was wearing a pale blue crocheted dress, and long straightened hyper-styled hair. She looked to be in her 30s. There was plenty of room. Neither of us is fat and neither had to break stride or slow pace. But she decided to speak. “Excuse you,” she said.

“Pardon me?” I countered.

“I said, ‘excuse you.’ That’s what you’re supposed to say when you pass someone like that.”

I made a quick decision not to engage in this dialogue. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be,” the woman replied. “No need to be sorry. ‘Excuse me’ is just the thing to say in these circumstances.” And she waltzed away, slowly, in the other direction.

I had been considering the addition of a few items to my basket. The express lane permits 12, and I could carry more than I had collected. But that was the last straw. The third strike. I was getting a clear message that I was not fit for the world I was finding today.

I joined an express lane line. I said the required words to the cashier, and I paid for my groceries (the tab was $16.99, and with the change I’d gotten at Long’s I had $16.84 in my pocket; I used a credit card). I managed to get out of there and I headed for home and my room.

What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with them? Why can’t we see the same?

I think the Long’s cashier was uncouth. She shouldn’t have commented on my purchases.

I think the bookstore woman was unnecessarily bureaucratic. Policy my ass. There’s a big difference between a large opaque backpack and a plastic bag which advertises both the store and its contents.

I don’t think I was rude in the grocery store, but I got a lecture. How’s this?

I think I’ll say how. I must have gone out of here with a chip on my shoulder and then broadcast it. The Long’s clerk probably sensed something and tried to converse and cheer me up. The book bitch probably sensed nothing, but between not finding the book and having a small fit getting my bag back, I left that store with a hard-on that then got read by blue-dress. I think she interpreted attitude as behavior. I passed her in a whirl of negativity, and her complaint (I think) was not about my proximity. I doubt she knew what she was objecting to, but I think it’s probable she just came from an experience of community and found my mood jarring.

Short-term hindsight is perfectly sarcastic. But it’s good that I didn’t say to her, “I’m sorry that my behavior bothers you,” and then when she replied (as she would have) with the “Oh no, don’t be sorry,” I could have sliced back with, “Well, perhaps you should be sorry that your behavior bothers me. Because, lady, you’re not my mother, and you’re confused about your role if you think it’s to teach me manners.”

It’s good I didn’t say that, because it wouldn’t have made me feel better, and I see now it would have missed the point.

She was off base but not baseless.

(Longs is now CVS. The bookstore (Black Oak) is no more. I wouldn’t buy cookies that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil unless commanded to at gunpoint. And either my attitude has improved or I’ve gotten better at preventive solitude.)

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