This blog may be called Adventures in Fiction, but how ’bout some real-life manufactured drama?
For a little over a year now, I’ve decreased my freelance work and returned to a ‘real’ job: stocking freight for the local unit of a nationwide store chain. Stocking freight may seem menial after the other jobs on my resume, but it was my first choice when I applied. First, it would keep me active and not standing in place, as a cashier must do. Second, it would force me to exercise, which editing and writing do not necessarily encourage, as one spends hours before a computer or a narrow-lined notebook. Third, it would be good physical therapy as I continued to recover from injuries (and avoided doing the actual therapeutic exercises, because they hurt). Fourth, it would limit my interaction with the public—although, to my horror, there is still altogether too much of that. And, fifth, it would provide the extra income whenever income lagged from royalties or freelance jobs.
Now you know why I was there. So, where’s the drama?
My team and the overnight team are both short of members; thus, some of us stayed a few hours late to finish freight so the other team wouldn’t have to scramble to take up our slack. Some time around 1 a.m., a woman and her young daughter were looking at handsoaps, but my cart was partially blocking one shelf. I moved the cart back toward me, and opened a box.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the woman.
“No, it’s fine,” I replied. (The words on the page are far more stark than they were spoken.)
I kept working.
The woman said something to her daughter, and then continued with “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You don’t have to be upset about it,” and more comments in that vein, as if she were arguing with someone.
Then I realized those apologies and offended remarks were directed at me, and she was working herself into tempest.
Not knowing if anything I said to mitigate the situation would actually escalate it, I kept silent. Do not engage. Do NOT engage.
She and her daughter moved on, and I thought they were gone, but they soon showed up on the next aisle I prepared to stock. Then her husband arrived, and they had a low-voiced conversation while I and my teammate exchanged status reports and moved on to our last cart of freight. We returned to separate aisles.
I opened a few boxes.
The husband walked past, muttering.
I caught “…rude, m_____-f_____ing…” and again didn’t realize immediately the words were directed at me until he was already several aisles away.
My teammate stepped out into the main aisle and looked at me.
I said quietly, “Some people are offended all by themselves,” and returned to my cart.
“What was that?” the man roared.
I stepped back into view as he strode toward us, one fist raised, and I stared at him.
Standing off to the side, my teammate replied, “We were talking about work.”
And then we went about our tasks.
He had nothing to do but drop his hand and go about his business.
It was a Doc Holliday moment: “Oh. Johnny, I apologize; I forgot you were there. You may go now.”
My thoughts: Wow. What a way to defend your wife’s honor. Mutter a few obscenities in a passive-aggressive walk-by cursing. Yeah. You da man.
Later, when the teammate and I told our supervisor about the incident, he shrugged it off—the customers’ offense, not the aggression—and told us to alert management whenever we feel threatened. In the moment, however, all I considered was the ridiculousness of the situation and that I was too far away to step between the angry man and my teammate, should he choose to swing at her.
Thank God he backed down in the face of our calm, ‘clueless’ response.
When I recounted the incident later to Bubba’s Wife and expressed my lack of understanding over what I could have done to offend the female customer, she said, “The woman wanted attention, and you weren’t giving it.”
That’s the second time in about a month that people have worked themselves up into an offended frenzy over what they imagine to be my offense. What must they have imagined about me? About themselves? And why was anger and offense their go-to reaction?