Dear businessman at the grocery store

By Maureen F. McHugh

By Salon Staff
September 22, 2000 11:08PM (UTC)
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I don't understand where the businessman in this article went wrong. I can typically be found on the other side of this equation, talking on my cellphone as I go about getting done what I need to do for the day. If I'm in the grocery store, I'm probably there to buy groceries. And if someone is behind the register at the checkout line, I'm assuming that they are there to ring me out. Should I stop and chat with them? And if I "breeze" in front of you getting in line, what exactly do you want from me? A smile, a nod, a hello? Why do you need this small act of validation from me? I'm not asking for any type of validation from you. I want to pay for my groceries and leave.

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You're right, you are background noise to me. The same way I'm background noise to all of the people I pass in a day who don't acknowledge me. Being background noise at the supermarket doesn't bother me; I'm not there to form close personal friendships, I'm there to buy food. If I can get something else done while I'm buying food, so much the better.

-- Ben Corman

Amen, sister. I resonated so intensely to this article that I could feel myself vibrating. I don't have any illusions that such rudeness is a new phenomenon; if anything, it reminds me of the 19th century, where the haves raised perfume-scented handkerchiefs to their noses rather than acknowledge the smells of poverty and exploitation from which they themselves benefited.

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The guy at the grocery store probably wouldn't recognize himself even if he does show up in the novel. People who are that oblivious to those around them are even more oblivious to their own behavior -- unless, of course, they wind up on the receiving end of such rudeness. If, for example, the clerk had made an issue of trying to get his attention, chances are he would have reported her to her manager and complained about the "hired help."

As a writer, I do as McHugh does. I extract my revenge upon such characters in this world by writing them into my fiction. Unfortunately, in this case, I doubt that businessman with a cellphone would deign to pick up a novel.

Instead, I take pleasure in imagining that, just as with expensive cars, possessions such as cellphones cover up major insecurities about serious shortcomings. In this case, it isn't hard to imagine what such shortcomings may be.

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-- Lorraine Berry


Salon Staff

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