We’re five minutes into our trip when I realize I’ve forgotten the birthday card. Luckily, we’re just a few blocks from our neighborhood Target, so I tell the boys we need to make a stop.
The place is packed. And by packed, I mean there are at least five people in every checkout line, and not one of the lines is moving. Each customer is showing varying degrees of anger and listlessness. There’s a thick and sticky sort of tension.
We grab the best card we can find, and then I look at the clock. We have 20 minutes to get to a party that is 30 minutes away. I hate to be late, but the boys are happy, so I get in line without complaining.
Meanwhile, the woman in front of me is really worked up. She checks her watch and sighs, and shifts her weight and sighs, and shakes her head and sighs very loudly until the cashier apologizes.
“This is VERY inconvenient!” the woman says. “I have $200 dollars I’m trying to spend at your store, and it’s like you don’t want me to.”
“I’m so sorry,” the cashier says. “We’re having trouble with our system. It’s not accepting credit or debit card payments above $100.”
The woman scoffs. “Great. Really, that’s great. Because I have nothing else to do.”
Finally, the woman in front of me places her items on the conveyor belt. Paper towels. Toys. Clothing. Shampoo. On and on and on. The cashier scans each item and processes the total. “That will be $172.96.” She says.
The woman pulls out her credit card.
“I don’t think that will go through,” the cashier says.
“Look. I waited in line all this time. Run it.”
And so we wait. And we wait and wait and wait. “I’m sorry,” the cashier says. “It’s just not going through.”
The woman pauses a moment. And then, she absolutely unleashes. “This is ridiculous! I am going to be late for my appointment! I have all this money to spend, what am I supposed to do? How do I know you didn’t just charge my card? I mean, am I going to wait all this time and walk out of here with nothing and still have a $200 charge on my card? Who is your manager? What is your name?”
The cashier is dumbfounded. She blinks at the woman and doesn’t say anything.
My boys look at me. “Mama, why is that wady so mad?” H asks.
“Because this is bullsh!t,” the lady answers my 5-year-old son.
There’s a scene from one of my very favorite movies, where the extremely shy Amelie watches a grocery store owner belittle his clerk. She wishes someone from a nearby window would whisper just one good comeback so she could use it to put the shop owner in his place. Instead, she says nothing (and eventually seeks revenge in private).
(Fast Forward 1:00 to see it here.)
I need a comeback whisperer, too. I can dream up a zinger or two on my own, but I’m always late to the draw. In five minutes, when we’re stuck in the detour traffic that will make us 45 minutes late, I’ll think of dozens of things I could have said—dozens of ways I could have played the scene—to humiliate this woman into silence. Including this:
Me: Alright, that’s enough.
The woman: Excuse me?
Me: You’re lashing out at the wrong people. Please apologize to my son, and then apologize to Stephanie here.
The woman: (Placing her hand on her hip) I have five inches and 60 lbs on you.
Me: (Perfect right hook)
Here’s how I actually reacted:
Me: (stunned silence)
The woman: I hope you know, I’m going to write to the franchise owner about this.
Cashier: I’m so sorry.
Me: (more stunned silence)
I’ve had enough of my deer-in-headlights reactions. Today, I saw a man pimp-smack his dog, and it put me over the edge. Still, I took the dumbfounded route again and didn’t say anything. I simply scowled at the man and hoped he got the message.
Now I can’t stop thinking about that dog. Or that poor cashier. Or the dad who slapped his kid in the ice cream aisle. And I can’t stop thinking about that woman.
That’s how a 36×37 assignment is born: This year, in some unnamed place, at some unknown point, I’m going stand up to someone who deserves it. And it’s going to be loud, and it’s going to be embarrassing—hopefully for the other party and not for me—and maybe there will be punching. (But there probably won’t be.)
And then? Then I’m going to write about it.
And I absolutely cannot wait.
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