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Avoidance and Annoyance
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
So you're at the grocery store and you're ready to check out, you've kept your purchases under 12 items so you can use the Express Lane without guilt, but luckily you've caught a break in the action and you see that two lanes have opened themselves up to you. Which is great, because you're in a hurry, so you commit to the nearest lane but as soon as you wheel your cart into it, you stop. The cashier looks efficient but you notice the bagger is the friendly Down's Syndrome guy who you like but he always talks to the customers and he's a little slow at his job and you're in a hurry, remember? So you go into reverse and maneuver the cart into the adjacent lane but somebody has snuck in front of you and not only that, you notice that the cashier and bagger that you've rejected are staring at you, for they've both read your mind, and you can recognize their expressions plain as day, disgust from one and hurt from the other.
You make a show of fidgeting in the new lane, to reinforce the importance of your Hurry and your mild shame, and then of course you notice that the person who took your place in the previous lane has already paid and is on the way out while you're stalled: the guy in front of you is buying wine, the cashier is high-school aged and has the light flashing, waiting for a manager. Slowly, slowly, the manager shows up and processes the transaction, and then, finally, it's your turn. Your impatience is still there but now it's joined by something else, something that makes you chew your lip, for you know you're not a terrible person but that's how it feels. You get your receipt and you grab your bags and you make sure not to look over at the previous lane because you can feel that you're still being looked at. And as you walk away you get to hear the cashier saying something reassuring to the bagger, something about not taking it personally.
Okay, I'm not being fair, am I? This isn't a moral or ethical thing, after all, it's a convenience issue. Time is the thing we're all lacking, right? Surely everybody knows this and accepts it. It's a big old rough and tough world out there that puts pressures and demands on us all and sometimes you just have to keep moving, regardless of what's left in your wake.
So how about this one, then: you're taking public transportation, it's either a plane flight or the train or you're on a bus. The person next to you, an elderly woman, is smiling at you. She dressed up for the trip, while you look like somebody cleaning the pool. You nod at her, but you know if you allow yourself to be too friendly, she'll talk your ear off the whole trip, and you can't have that, can you? Old people will take an inch and all that. Though it's obvious she's dying for a little simple interaction, you grab your iPad and plug yourself in. You've been intent on hearing that new twenty-one pilots CD, after all. You close your eyes though you're really not tired, you just need to maintain that great stony face. After a few moments you can feel her sigh, though you can't hear it, and you sense her reaching for that thrilling in-flight magazine. Mission accomplished.
One last one and then I'll leave you alone. You're taking your dog for a walk, Fluffy or Binky or Fido goes nuts if he doesn't get his exercise in, so you grab the leash and a bottle of water and you head outside. You take two steps out the door and then you freeze — on the sidewalk, in front of your neighbor's house, you see a mom with a double stroller, with two insanely babbling girls inside. These toddlers are the scourge of the neighborhood, they go absolutely bonkers whenever they see any dog or cat outside. You know you can't chance getting close to them, for they'll be all over you and your pet, and you know that will make Fluffy or Binky or Fido agitated, though your dog loves strangers and is currently wagging his tail hard enough to cause a mini-tornado. You yank on the leash, hard, and you almost dead spring/drag your excited dog in the opposite direction, hoping that the infernal children won't notice you. But of course they do, and you can hear their happy and then disappointed voices trail off as you hustle away, with your dog straining against your every effort. And you hear the mom softly telling the girls that some dogs just need their space.
It should be obvious to everyone by now that the "you" I"m referring to in this story is "me," that I'm the person who decided that my time and my sovereignty were just too precious to be trifled with by the great Unwashed out there. Those three events didn't happen over a lifetime, either; they all happened this Spring. I can't really explain my actions and I certainly can't justify them, but I think I've taken the tiniest of steps by at least acknowledging that yes, This is what I did. I'm hopeful though not convinced that in the future I'll behave differently if the same situations present themselves again.
But maybe you think I did nothing wrong. Maybe you think I acted prudently. Maybe you think that that's just the way the world is. This could be. But if you've done something similar to what I've done — and I'm going to take a wild guess and approximate that 100% of you have — then I'd like to offer a tiny bit of advice: If you think that the best course of action to take in encountering "other people" in this world is avoidance, if you believe that "other people" are just too annoying and impossible and wearying and stupid and insignificant, if you think that displaying a bit of empathy and human decency is just too hard and time-consuming and fruitless, if you think that you need to save your strength and your energy for the five or six people in the world who you're related to, or closest to — well, you're wrong. Dead wrong.