I don’t see myself as the type of person who seeks out confrontations. I can’t remember many instances in my life where I felt compelled to speak out in the moment against any singular instance of a perceived wrong. I am however inundated daily with an onslaught of petty injustices which frustratingly go unaddressed. These passing grievances invariably infuriate me for a period of time which fluctuates based on my disposition, but is always much longer than the time I imagine a more well-adjusted person dwells on them.
For instance, today while I was out shopping I was twice reminded of my lack of patience with those who break small rules. I am a tried-and-true disciple of the rule-follower handbook, even though a lifetime of experience has demonstrated a clear lack of tangible results. Rule-following gets you an 100% approval rating from your grandmother’s friends when you are eight and literally nothing else. Being a rule-follower, while an effective way to avoid home phone calls from your grade school principal (or later in life, imprisonment) usually doesn’t get you any closer to unhooking Alice Brookhauser’s bra strap in junior high (or later in life, getting rich by pumping and dumping cryptocurrency.)
Despite this lack of tangible results from rule-following, I still adhere to its code to this day. Which brings us back to my recent encounter with small-time suburban injustice.
First, a man at the Peter’s Pickles (yes, it is un-ironically named that) stand at Root’s Farmer’s Market refused to acknowledge and participate in the lengthy line that had clearly already been formed. The man was trying to finagle getting waited on without queuing in that nonchalant but obvious way blatant line jumpers often do.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t even see the line! I thought these 14 separate people just decided to stand one directly behind another for no apparent reason. My deepest apologies.”
At that point I was already being waited on so I didn’t have to interject with a, “Hey, there’s a line,” in the best firm yet unthreatening voice I could muster. Or at least that’s how I imagined what I would have said. I think In the past, I think I’ve corrected someone in a similar instance as it’s a relatively painless path of conflict. You can be viewed as standing up for not only your own interests, but other’s as well. I would be the champion of the rule-followers, the defender of the queue, hero to all. The other aggrieved line-standers would undoubtedly admire my moral fortitude and have my back like the “real” New Yorkers did for Spider-Man in… well every Spider-Man movie to set in New York.
In parallel, regarding today’s other instance of shopping etiquette malfeasance, had I stood up for the rule of grocery law, I would have been viewed not as hero, but as an asshole. To be clear, I would have been in the right, but judged an asshole nonetheless.
I had just finished up picking out two items to purchase at Stauffer’s and went to the 10 Items or Less aisle to check out. Stauffer’s usually has two of their four 10 Items or Less checkout aisles manned (being as they have not given in to the robotic inevitability of the self-checkout aisle.) The 10 Items or Less at Stauffer’s starts as a single queue, then forks into two, forcing you to choose one checker or another. Each person in front of me had picked a separate side respectively, and now it was my turn to decide behind whom I would queue.
I spied my options but from my vantage point I couldn’t see the contents of either shopper’s cart, so I decided to base my choice on checker characteristics. I’m ashamed to admit I made an ageist choice. The checker to my left was an older lady who seemed to be working at leisurely pace, while the checker on the right was barely out of high school, and while a little chatty, seemed to be scanning and bagging pretty briskly. So I went right.
Of course, I chose poorly.
Now fully committed to my path, the man in front of me began to unload his groceries on to the woefully inadequate counter space provided. It was immediately apparent he had way more than ten items in his cart.
You may be saying, “Now c’mon Brian, certainly a man who has 13 items instead of ten in his cart isn’t that big of a deal.” I would agree, if that were the case. But to say the man had just 13 items in his cart would be a disservice to the truth and anyone who has ever had to scan a barcode for a paycheck.
24 items. The man I had chosen to queue behind had 24 items in his cart. In the 10 Items or Less aisle. To be clear, I’m not talking about counting sodas in a 6-pack as individual items. He had 24 distinctly separate pieces of grocery in that damn little half-cart.
You may be asking yourself, “Brian, how do you know he had exactly 24 items?” Well, it’s because I had ample time to count every. Single. One. I had time to count them as he and the young checker chatted about the weather, their plans for the rest of day, and how they were each grateful for their blessings during this unique time in our country’s history. I had time to count them as four customers came and went on the unchosen elderly, but now astonishingly efficient, left-hand checker. I had time to count them as the man wondered out loud which credit card he should use to purchase said items, as each card he owned had separate but surprisingly beneficial rewards programs.
I had the time.
Let me also note there were an unusual amount of regular checkers open during this time of day at Stauffer’s, like 7 or 8. Many other non-rule-breaking options were available. So this leaves us with three options as to why this man would flout the clearly stated checkout number rules.
1. He’s illiterate. This option seems unlikely as he was able to navigate the answers on the payment touch-pad deftly without delay or confusion.
2. He’s the illiterate version of being able to count (which Wikipedia tells me is called dyscalculia, which by the way also sounds like a disease that the Sesame Street’s Count could suffer from when he gets older) This also seems unlikely based on his ability to accurately recite his phone number to make sure we was awarded the proper amount of Stauffer’s Frequent Shopper rewards points
3. He knew he was breaking the rules, didn’t want to wait in a regular checkout line, and he just didn’t care. Bingo.
Later, after I had lugged my less than 10 items back to my home, I was left to wonder, “What does it matter? Why do I care? Why do I continue to think about these small infractions throughout the day when there are bigger problem areas in my life to address?” I wish I could answer those questions. I wish I knew why I am a compulsive rule-follower but yearn to be free from the 10 Items or Less shackles of life. I would love to live in the world that the grocery criminal and the Peter’s Pickles line jumper live in. A consequence and guilt-free existence where one can bend the little rules of life to your whim without all the reasoned internal dialogue and mental hand-wringing that comes with it.
Instead, I’ll continue to wait in line, stew in my juices and try not to speak up. Because then, as stated earlier, I’m clearly the asshole.