I’m going to do this a little bit backwards, putting the end of the story first. It just works better that way.
As you read the following the tale, consider your answers to these questions:
- What would you have done if you had been there that day?
- What would you have done if you are an adult?
- What would you have done if you’re a young person?
- Would you have reacted the way my friend did?
- Regardless of what you would have done either as an adult or a young person, do you approve of the way my friend reacted?
- What would you have done if you were the young man working behind the counter?
- What would you have done if you were one of that young man’s co-workers?
- Was what my friend did an act of bravery?
- Or one of stupidity?
- If you could say one thing to the man who was causing all the problems, what would it be?
- If you were the young man’s boss, what would you say to him?
- To my friend?
- Have you ever seen anything like this before?
- And if so, what did you do?
- If it happened again, would you think the same way?
OK, enough questions. So now that I have you wondering what in the world I’m talking about – what I’m referring to – here it is:
I went to my favorite neighborhood pizza shop one night recently to pick up my large, double-cheese pie with pepperoni, which is what I always order whether it’s there or someplace else.
I wasn’t the only one planning to eat pizza that evening, because when I got to my place, the small lobby was full of people – about seven or eight, by my count, including my friend, Rob. The assembly-line movement of people, one by one, getting their pizza, paying for it and then heading out the door, only to be replaced by a new customer like me walking in, had come to a complete standstill. They were all staring, jaws dropped, as a customer – a short, older man with glasses, a Woody Allen Lookalike Contest winner if there ever was one – berated the young man standing behind the counter. He was really working the kid over, like one of those basketball coaches, his face beet-red and the veins in his neck sticking out, going after a referee with an interesting combination of four-letter words, the order of which had never been heard before in the recorded history of man, after his team was on the wrong end of what he considered to be a really horrible call.
The issue at hand?
In 2018, that’s how the human race has evolved. We make fools of ourselves screaming about chopped up pieces of cabbage marinating in creamy sauce.
Apparently, the guy thought he ordered a two-pound container of coleslaw to go with his pizza. He said he had paid for two pounds of coleslaw, and he wanted two pounds, darn it. But he had gotten just one pound. He was being slawed, as it were, and he didn’t like it. The Bill of Rights had been violated.
But as the clerk tried to explain to him several times by showing him his receipt, there was some miscommunication. The person taking his order over the phone had marked him down for only one pound, and that’s what he paid for. The clerk apologized – profusely – for such an egregious mistake, and told him they would quickly spoon him up him his second pound of slaw so his order would be right and his day – his week, his month, his year, his entire life – would not be ruined.
But that wasn’t enough. The man kept screaming. The foul-word combos got even more intriguing and he promised that he was going to call the kid’s boss and make sure that he got fired.
All of us – the other customers – were appalled. We were frozen. My friend, Rob, thawed out quickly enough – maybe it was because he was steaming – and made it clear to the man that he didn’t like the way he was treating the clerk.
"I hadn’t been that mad in 35 years," Rob would tell me later. "But I had had enough. That kid didn’t deserve any of that."
The man then left the kid alone and tore into Rob, who remained cool, calm and collected but refused to back down.
"Would you like to step outside and settle this?" the man finally said to him.
"Why, yes, I would," replied Rob, who is about seven inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than the Woody Allen guy.
They talked – actually, the man kept swearing, calling him names, while Rob said nothing – as they walked to the man’s high-end sports car.
Rob finally broke his silence.
"Would you like me to hold your pizza and your two pounds of slaw (he emphasized the word "two") while you take a swing at me?" he said.
The man, though in a fit of rage, was still rational enough to know that would be a terrible idea in a lot of different ways. He kept swearing at Rob and calling his names as he got into his car and drove away – but not before giving my friend a one-finger salute.
All of the rest of the customers heaved a sigh of relief that there were no punches thrown, and that the man didn’t pull out a gun and begin shooting. That’s how we resolve disputes now, you know.
Rob, being a pizza aficionado through and through, walked back inside the shop to get his pie, only to be greeted by a standing ovation from everyone, most notably – and loudly – all the workers, whose faith and belief in adults had been restored. He was a cult hero.
And he would do it all again.
"Somebody had to do something. I just happened to be the guy," Rob said.
So, now that we’re at the end of my tale, let’s go back to the beginning. What were your answers to my questions?