Friday, May 23, 2014

Off Her Game

It was a bustling morning, scheduled up nice and tight.  Tighter than most.  I try to leave some flex most days, part of having balance and space to breathe, but it wasn't one of those mornings.  Instead, it was more the type of day most Washingtonians live, with one event clicking off right after another.

Up at 5:45 am, with first one (6:35) and then another (7:00) teen fed and watered and heaved out the door. Between 7:00 and 7:20 the dog got walked, and at 7:25 the last load of laundry from the previous day went in.  Then, one hour of writing and managing social media, (7:25 - 8:25) followed by cleaning of dishes, straightening, and some necessary yard work. (8:26- 9:30)

And then there were groceries, which needed to be gotten.  I mean, really had to be gotten.  You can usually cobble together something for a meal, but the larder was bare.  No eggs.  No milk.  No cereal.  No deli meats.  The dilithium crystals were critically depleted, and the NCC-3812 was barely capable of mustering impulse.

So shopping had to happen.  It also had to happen quickly, because after that I was delivering for Meals on Wheels (10:30-11:30), and after that, I had a meeting with my doctoral advisor in town that would restart the--um--"slightly delayed" march to my doctorate.  That meeting was the linchpin of the day, (12:30-1:00pm) after which there were several hours allocated for library research.

It was a tight schedule, a carefully structured set of cogs that all needed to work neatly together.  And at 9:45, I rolled into Harris Teeter, ready for some swift Man Shopping.  Having an XY chromosome and all, I do not like noodling when I shop, drifting and sampling and testing.  Shopping is a proxy for hunting, to be done intently and with dispatch.

I was feeling that primal rush as I systematically stalked the Harris Teeter, snagging the necessary fuel for our household.  It was far earlier in the day than I usually shop, which is perhaps why the music they were piping in was actual Muzak, treacly instrumental versions of the great classics of the 60s and 70s.

I wheeled my full cart up to the front, and there saw that there were only a couple of lines open.  Long lines.  Very long lines.  I had waaay too much to self-check, and so I watched the cashiers.  One seemed to be moving quickly, swiftly gettin' it done, precise and confident, quickly bagging, so I locked into her line as the clock ticked away.

Only at the end of the order she was working on, there was a problem.  Something wasn't scanning.  There was conversation.  A manager was called.  There was more conversation.  It didn't scan again.  The code didn't work.  I could see the cashier's frustration gathering, and I could feel my own.  I checked the time, and the other lines.  Still too long to shift over.

She resolved the problem, and moved on to the next customer.  That went smoothly, and we moved up.  Just one more person in front of me.  All was rung up, only this customer was paying with a couple of hundred in cash.  The cashier hit the button to open the register, and it stuck halfway open.  She tugged at it.  Nothing.  She pulled at it.  Nothing.  She banged it.  It closed, and then would not reopen at all.

I checked the time.  I was losing vital minutes.  In the lines next to me, the error of my selection was clear.  I was feeling my neat day slipping away from me.

Customer Service was called over the store speaker.  And then called again, her voice quavering a little bit with frustration.  On the third call, the manager arrived, and they struggled with it for a minute.

Now, finally, my turn.  Precious minutes had been lost.  And the choice, which fell to me, was what tone of being to present.  I could choose to press, to let my busyness and annoyance manifest.  What matters here?

Is it my schedule, my grasping, my hurry?

Or is it this harried young woman, frustrated and with her pride in her competence dinged?

 So I mutter a stilling prayer to myself, and let myself be calm.   I calmed.  It will be as it is, but I did not have to contribute to the stress she was feeling.

"I'm so sorry," she said as she started ringing me up, "for the delay."  "That's OK," I said, and let my voice and my posture show that I meant it.

As a bagger drifted up to help with my large order, she said to him, "I'm just so off my game today."  He nodded, and I chimed in.  "We all have mornings like that.  It'll pass."

She apologized again as I took the loaded cart.  I gave her a smile, and told her it was alright, and to have a better one.

She smiled a little at that, and started in on the next customer.

We all have days when we're off our game.

Which is why it's important not to let the rush and stress of being let us forget what the whole point of that game is.