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The Suburbanite
  • Lessons learned from the calm of a convenience store clerk

  • As we get older — that’s older, not old, mind you — we see the world much more clearly for what it really is.

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  • As we get older — that’s older, not old, mind you — we see the world much more clearly for what it really is.
    That is, a lot of gray area — a lot of in-between — and very little that is black and white. Indeed, there are few absolutes, always and nevers.
    Maybe it’s that what we lose in energy, we gain in wisdom — or at least experience — to be able to decipher that truism.
    As such, we let most of what happens, roll off our backs. We pick and choose our spots to cause a commotion and say definitively that something is wrong, or right. That way, it means more. We haven’t been speaking up all along.
    But I’m going to pick and choose my spot in the remainder of this space, for if I don’t, I will have become too lax, too laissez-faire, too wishy-washy.
    You may read this and think I’m making a big deal about nothing — that I’ve picked the wrong spot to choose my spot, so to speak — and maybe you’re right. But the more I think about it, the madder I get, so I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway — with a little gusto.
    I was standing in line at a convenience store within The Suburbanite coverage area recently to pay for a food item. As usual, I was minding my own business. After all, what in the world does anyone care what an old — er, older – guy cares about anything?
    All of a sudden, an old — not an older — man walks past everybody in line and almost tosses a plastic gallon jug of milk onto the counter at the register.
    “How much is this?!” he asked the clerk in a loud, disrespectful and bombastic manner.
    When he was told the price, he screamed.
    “Why is it so much?!” he said, his attitude toward the clerk becoming noticeably more degrading with each word. “Why can’t I get one at one-half of the sale price of two? Why do I have to buy two?! I don’t need two!”
    “Sir, that’s the price for one,” the clerk said in a calm manner.
    The clerk never lost his cool — not even one bit. Maybe that’s what made the man angry.
    Anyway, the man looked at those of us in line — all adult males — as if he were going to agree with him, but nobody said a word. We didn’t agree with him at all. Instead, he wanted to punch his lights out. Respect for your elders? Not this time.
    The man then picked up the jug and tossed it back onto the counter as a parting shot and bellowed, “Well, you can go ahead and just keep it!”, before storming out.
    Page 2 of 3 - There are lots of things wrong with this.
    For starters, there’s the fact this is a convenience store and not a grocery store. You’re paying for the convenience of getting in and out quickly — very quickly, in fact, if you can’t walk past everybody in line as if you owned the place. If you’re in a hurry and have three kids waiting at home for that milk, then pay a little more so you can quench their thirst.
    But if you want deals, then go to the grocery store where you’re going to walk a little further to find the milk and wait a little longer in line to pay for it. And if you try to cut into that line there, woe to you if you do it in front of the overworked, under-appreciated and stressed out parent who really does have three kids waiting at home for that milk. He or she won’t be as nice as we were.
    So, mister, don’t be a knucklehead. Don’t confuse one place with the other.
    But the real wrong here — and moreover, the crux of this piece — involves the clerk. We’ll call him Joe, although that’s not really his name.
    I have no idea what his last name is, or anything about him. But I’ve been in the place enough to get a general idea of who — and what — he is.
    He’s a younger guy who, just like all the rest of us, has been knocked for a loop by this horrible economy and is using this job as a second income not because he wants to, but because he has to. So he’s got that — initiative and a work ethic — going for him.
    He’s always well-dressed, clean, pleasant and polite. He says hello to everyone who comes through the door. I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that he even greeted the knuckleheaded old man, and would do so again if the guy ever comes back. He does it because his boss has asked him to do it.
    For minimum wage, a boss shouldn’t be able to ask you to do too much, but Joe would never argue that point. That’s not him. And anyway, in needing the money, he’s in no position to do so.
    The knuckleheaded old man should also know that Joe doesn’t set the price for anything in the store. That’s done way above his head. He just rings it up and takes the money. That’s what he’s paid — very little, in fact — to do.
    What right does the kuckleheaded old man have to treat anyone — especially an industrious young man who probably does have three thirsty kids waiting at home for the milk he’ll buy with the money he makes — with such outright disdain? Who placed him way ahead of the clerk — or anyone working any service job — in the pecking order of life?
    Page 3 of 3 - Really, who the heck does he think he is?
    If Joe were wearing the finest attire, were president of the company and had an expensive car parked outside, do you think the knuckleheaded old man would have treated him as if he were dirt under his feet? Of course not.
    That’s the thing that’s most disconcerting. We stereotype people for what we think they’re worth, and then treat them as such, instead of showing them the common decency that any of us deserve. We’re all in this life together, people.
    We need more good people like Joe and less knuckleheaded old men.
    And that’s something to truly get fired up about — even if you’re older.