Friday, November 11, 2016

The Angry White Man and the System

Yesterday it was midday on a November Thursday, and I had walked to the store to pick up a few things.

At mid-day on a Thursday, the crowd at the grocery store is...different. A smattering of moms, their little ones ensconced in their cart seats, little legs dangling. There's a whole bunch of white hair, moving slowly, leaning on their carts for support.

 And there are men. Forty and fifty somethings, dressed in ways that say they have no reason to care about how they look during the day. Shoes, a mess. Old, threadbare jackets covering stained shirts mismatched with ill fitting pants.

 Meaning I fit right in.

I filled my basket, and wandered over to the short line at the self-checkout, the machines that simultaneously let large grocery chains hire fewer workers and open up the option of not ever, ever talking to another human being face to face.

 In front of me, a man. A white man, maybe seven years older than I. Salt and pepper hair, unwashed, uncombed. A mustache and chin grizzle. He seemed agitated.

 I know the routine. Plug in your card number, the machine prompts you, first thing. He was trying to get through that stage, jabbing at the screen with his index finger.

 It wasn't working. He muttered, angrily, and tried again, jabbing harder.

 Touchscreens being what they are, that didn't have the desired effect.

 "[Fornicate]," he said, not quietly. He tried again, now pressing hard enough on the screen that if it had been flesh, it would have left a bruise. It didn't work. "[Fornicate]," he said, again, his voice raised enough that heads turned.

 And then he balled his hand into a fist, and punched the screen. Hard. The employee responsible for the self-checkout, an older black man, looked faintly uncertain as to what to do, and not eager to intervene. 

The angry man snatched up his basket and stormed off to one of the regular lines.

 "[Fornicating] thing doesn't [fornicating] work," he said to me as he left. 

I took my place at the machine. The screen wasn't cracked. I tested it. It was still working. I plugged in my number, gently. It took two tries, as it often does. But it took.

 I finished my transaction, and loaded up my backpack.

 When I left the store, the angry white man was at the back of the line, rocking slowly back and forth, eyes unfocused, staring off into the distance.

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