I got lunch at the grocery store today—sushi, but just the avocado roll because anything beyond that is fishy. I took a detour through the ice cream aisle to get to the second cashier. She's the woman who's always there, so I gambled that she'd move faster. It is something I do whenever I grocery shop: scope the joint and bet on the lines. It is weirdly rewarding when I guess right and sail right through the checkout. It is like betting on flea races, little and beyond our control, but still with a whisper of athleticism.
I guessed incorrectly today. The man in front of my had some trash tax exempt form that required a special receipt that needed to be stapled to the regular receipt. I believe that the stapler was used no fewer than three times during the transaction. The cashier didn't even look up as she went through the motions. She is the kind of efficient New York woman who doesn't make eye contact
I accepted defeat gracefully. The line run by the younger, less wizened cashier flowed by as freely as time during a commute. The rookie upset. The old man behind me was a sore loser, however. He said, loudly, "Geez. Takes forever."
I didn't look at him at first. He was very audible, and I wasn't sure if he was annoyed with the hipster customer with the form (who was looking appropriately apologetic) or the master cashier. Either was rude. Then I decided that maybe there was a third option. Maybe he was talking about life.
Whenever my dad gets in a stupid argument with my stepmom, he’ll throw his head back and moan, “WHY IS LIFE SO LONG??” And no one can help but laugh.
But the old man was talking in that way that sounded like a grumpy announcement. It is one thing to complain under your breath to yourself, it is another to proclaim it loudly, hoping to incite a riot among the other customers.
But he also sounded strange. I usually try to avoid eye contact with people at all costs—that’s what phones are for—but I couldn’t help it. He sounded like he was chewing.
He was. I couldn’t believe it. He was gnawing away on his chewy bagel. He wasn’t as old at I thought he’d be—maybe late forties—but he was already bald with a nice shiny head. He had a sun spot on his right temple that aged him a decade, but the skin on his hands gave him away: he was still relatively young. He had crumbs on his shirt. Right there in the line at Morton Williams: eating a bagel in line and complaining loudly. What could be taking so long? Was he in a rush to eat his bagel on the sidewalk rather than in the store? It seemed unreasonable to me.
My dad will sometimes eat things in the grocery store before he’s paid. Then he brings the withered wrapper to the checkout and forces the cashier to smooth it out to get the barcode to scan. It says a lot about a person, I used to think, that he can’t even wait long enough to leave the store before biting into a bagel or whatever snack it is. I was so embarrassed by my dad when I was a kid. He would say that nobody cared. But I did, and I hardcore judged both him and this grocery man.
I hate waiting and hate delays. But I think being a woman also teaches you to be good at waiting. This moment reminded me of something I wrote in college:
I hate waiting. I wonder what percentage of our lives we spend waiting. For the bus. For appointments. For people to meet you at that Italian restaurant. It would be a depressing number to calculate. I am sure that you spend more time waiting than you do on, say, personal hygiene. Maybe.
I think I could reasonably hypothesize that women spend more time waiting than men. They wait for their date to pick them up, they wait for marriage proposals, they wait for pregnancies to become live babies, they wait for their kids to come home from school, they wait for their husbands to come home from work, they wait for their grown children to call them back. But maybe that’s an old-fashioned notion of women.
I was extra nice to the cashier to spite the man. She still didn’t look up, but it felt good rubbing it in his face. As I picked up my sushi, the cashier lifted her head for the first time. “Hi, Michael,” she said.
So I guess he was a regular. I guess she is used to waiting on him and his rudeness.