Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I was in line at the supermarket a few months ago, buying tonic water with quinine, when someone larger and slightly taller than me bumped into me to place his stuff on the conveyor. It was his hairy arm that pushed against me. Then he moved back, dragging away a cart which had at first baffled me, until I stepped around it, briefly thinking dark thoughts about whoever might have abandoned it there. I had wondered: Was it the ladies in front of me? Then I placed my bottles from my hand cart onto the belt and forgot the matter. Momentarily the bumpy gent bumped me, and hauled away the cart. When he hauled away the cart he bumped me solidly again, this time with his backpack. When he reappeared I had not moved, and he stood within inches of me. I said "When I bump into people I generally apologize." I looked at his face. He had a short beard, and the slightly puffy features of a couch potato. "OK," he said, "and when I do that, I will." I guess he didn't like my attitude, so decided to pretend like it had never happened. But could he not have noticed? Maybe he has some neurological problem that interferes with his kinesthetic sense? But in that case he probably would be in the habit of apologizing immediately, even when he was not sure. Maybe he was feeling combative and upset over some stress in his life, and found the skinny guy with the gall to leave his cart in the way to be a convenient outlet? I'm inclined to believe that. When I got to my car and loaded the bottles in, I saw him emerge from the store, apparently speaking into some electronic device. He car was parked at the curb where parking was not allowed, with the hazard lights blinking. Maybe he was just in a hurry.

Another time in the same store, not sure if it was before my diagnosis, there this guy who, along with his lady companion, seemed to be on a stimulant, probably illegal, and kept crowding up right behind me as if hoping that would make the line go faster. I shifted my stance with a leg braced to the side, so that he'd have to climb up the leg to get into my ear. He practically did, and finally started saying insulting things directly to me, which I now no longer remember. I asked him why he was crowding me. He said something about it being due to me sticking my foot out. Then he referred to me as a piece of anatomy at the terminus of bowel function. I just looked at him. It's true he was shorter by a couple of inches, but he must have been able to tell I was no physical threat to him. "I'm sorry," he suddenly said. I was surprised. My strategy is the one found to be optimal in the prisoner's dilemma game. It's tit-for-tat, with the important proviso that your first move is cooperative. You could call it Golden Rule -- Once. So, to reward his diplomacy, I said, "Oh, uh, well I'm sorry, too."

"Asshole," he snickered at my back, as I walked away with my groceries.

A couple of months later, I was in a drug store buying batteries. I put my batteries down on the conveyer, behind the stuff of a young woman who had nice, back-laced leather boots on. I pondered telling her that I liked the boots, but then decided against it because it would probably creep her out. I picked up one of those rubbery separators and put it behind my things. A guy who I peripherally perceived as puffy and soft, with a short beard, came up and got into my personal space bubble. There was a foot and a half of space on the conveyer behind my batteries, but he used a case of Coke to shove the separator and the batteries forward. "There," he said in a mock sweet voice, "now there's room for everyone." It was delivered as if speaking to child. He put down the Coke, and the six-pack of beer. It was 10:30 in the morning, on a Thursday. When I didn't respond to the sortie, he took away "my" rubbery separator (thus removing the distinction between my purchases and his), and put it down behind his drinks. I'm pretty sure that there was another separator available. His gesture was some kind of primate dominance display. I pondered coming up with some kind of quip, but decided against it. I hoped that by my not responding, that he would continue with his day while simmering in the awareness his own foul mood.
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