I had the most bizarre experience at Fred Meyer tonight. I had Ava in her car seat on top of the basket's child seat and was in line waiting to put my groceries on the belt. Inadvertently, I bumped the cart of the person in front of me with my cart. Literally, I made about as much contact as brushing against someone in an elevator. His cart didn't even roll. Feeling the contact, I peered over Ava's head and said, "Oh, I'm sorry about that," and went back to fiddling with her feet and keeping her entertained.
If everyone in this little saga were normal, that would be the end of it, right? Yes, well this was Bizarro Fred Meyer and Mr. Cart Tappee apparently felt our carts touching was an affront equal to the Janjiweed torching his home and killing his family in a spate of civil unrest.
He turned to me with this put upon expression and said, "You just don't care about anyone else, do you? You just sit there and don't even care that you bumped my cart." Surprised, I reiterated, "Uh, I said 'I'm sorry' but I guess you didn't hear me. Again, I'm sorry about that."
Again, this should end now, right? Oh, you and I both wish. No, Mr. Cart Tappee then continues, "Well sorry isn't good enough! What if I had been standing there? (When I arrived, he was already standing near the front of his cart about to load groceries onto the belt) I wouldn't even have room to stand behind my cart because you're so close. As a matter of fact, you need to back up! I could pull my cart but I don't want to. I want to push it the way it's supposed to be pushed! As a matter..."
He continued blathering on in this vein but I tuned him out because I realized I was experiencing a moment that former Oprah guru Iyanla Vanzant described as "When you see crazy coming, cross the street."
This was clearly not about me or my cart. This guy had to be dealing with something bad in his personal life (I know: shocker considering his lovely attitude). But clearly, something was seriously loco about this guy's way of handling rather innocuous situations. Like scary loco.
So I went over to a store employee and asked him about opening another check stand. He couldn't but came to stand nearby just in case. When I came back, the guy was just getting to the checker. Grrr. So I simply gave him a wide berth and gap on the belt ahead of me as I started to unload my groceries. He continued muttering to the checker, pointedly ignoring me.
As if to prove the point that this could have been a non-event had the guy had an even rudimentary grasp of appropriate social cues and responses, seconds after returning to the line, a lady behind me bumped my arm reaching for a grocery belt divider.
"Oh, I'm sorry dear," she said. "No problem," I replied, without hesitation. I went back to unloading my cart, and she did the same. See? That's how NORMAL people react, as opposed to Mr. Hair Trigger Anger Bomb.
When I told J. about it later that night, he was understandably outraged and said, "Why didn't you go off on him?" "Uh, because I generally don't just unload on bystanders, no matter how deserving they are." Only later did it occur to me that my gut told me to let it go, which in hindsight was the right thing to do with Ava sitting there inches away. What if I had returned the vitriol and escalated the situation? What if the guy, who was 6' to my 5' 4," had gotten physical or waited for us in the parking lot to continue the rant?
Ultimately, I didn't go off because A) it's not my style (public shouting match and/or fisticuffs? How uncouth!) and B) because every time I look into my daughter's eyes as she absorbs experiences each day of her still-new life, I'm reminded that I am her first and most powerful role model. And while I want her to stick up for herself when bullies raise their slimy heads, she also has to know how to assess situations, pick her battles and know that sometimes when you see crazy coming, it's better to just cross the street.
What would you have done?