Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It Cuts Both Ways

My buddy Robert the photographer extraordinaire and I were leaving paid parking yesterday when I realized we'd failed to get his card validated in the area where we were shooting group photos.

"I can get that stamped, I said.

"Nah, it'll be 60 cents," he said. "Don't go back in."

So, three minutes and $2.00 later we had the Robertmobile on surface streets again.

"You know," he said, "I acted a lot more polite at the booth than I felt when I realized the charge. Sometimes manners just kick in and you grin and go on."

And sometimes manners don't. I worry I'm turning into an asshole.

Time passages
Flash forward - it's today and I'm in line at a sandwich shop. A guy somewhere between 55 and 155 is hanging out at the counter between ordering stations. I don't know why, but I really hate disorder and confusion when all I want to do is stand in line, order, pay and go sit down.

But there's confusion and re-direction and the clerk asks the person in front of me - "Can I help you?"

But the person in front of me has already placed her order with another clerk working the take-out station. Great - she's placed her order and is, I don't know, rolling pennies. Maybe it's time to GO ON TO THE NEXT PERSON IN LINE!

That would be me. After a little more confusion the clerk sort of looks my way.

"Do you want to do me?" I ask. Not the best choice of words, but I wasn't expecting to have to do any prompting, you know, to buy food in a restaurant.

Turning phrases
She gets my Reuben and iced tea on record, and as I'm paying the old guy wakes up and starts babbling.

"Do you?" he asked. "What does that mean?"

I ignore him. I'm just trying to order a sandwich not send cryptic signals to anyone loitering at the check-out counter.

"What? Do you? I didn't catch that," he repeats.

I finally look at him and glare and say: "I didn't throw anything in your direction."

He doesn't know quite what to say to that, and as he starts stammering I move on, feeling almost immediately like one of those jerks in neckties that I hate.

Unlike Robert, my underlying manners burned out in a burst of impatience some time ago.

Maybe the old guy was hanging out at the counter because he didn't have anything else to do, and maybe he was babbling just to make a joke and be friendly in that folksy yet annoying way old guys have.

And maybe my rapier-like retort did more damage to me than to anyone else.

You always think back on situations, and the things you should have said.

Sometimes when you say them, you wish you could take them back.

5 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I second guess or analyze my responses all the time like this, and often feel bad. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the assholes who deserve curtness and the stumbling lonely and deranged who struggle to function well. I've been ranting for two days about the idiots that block our traffic circle so that no one can move even when where they are going is backed up. I try to have patience, but when I fail, I try to forgive myself because with more and more people to deal with there are bound to be moments of frustration.

Kate S said...

Aw, I feel bad for both of you, Sid - you and the clueless guy. The fact that you even gave your behavior a second thought proves you haven't turned into an asshole. :)

When I find myself in that situation, I try to remember a little trick someone once taught me. I say to myself something along the lines "Just like me, this is person is probably...(fill in the blank)" and it helps to diffuse my anger when I can remember to do it.

For example, if someone cuts me off in traffic and I'm ready to blow a fuse, it helps to say, "Just like me, this person is probably in a hurry and sometimes forgets to pay attention." Surprisingly, that does work. It helps to diffuse the anger and creates sympathy at the same time.

Of course, sometimes I forget and lay on the horn and give them the finger, but you know, nobody's perfect. :)

Sphinx Ink said...

I agree with Kate ("The fact that you even gave your behavior a second thought proves you haven't turned into an asshole"). You're not an asshole until you lose your conscience and no longer worry about being rude. If you're aware you were rude, then you can change.

I always try to remind myself to treat others as I would want them to treat me. Of course, when dealing with the slow-witted, the clueless, or the hostile-for-no-reason, I sometimes have to chant that mantra fiercely while trying not to imitate their behaviors.

Erik Donald France said...

Send this to Curb Your Enthiusiasm and see what they'll make a whole show about it ;)

deerfieldparksouth said...

Pretty helpful material, thanks so much for the article.

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