I was pushing my cart down an aisle that was very narrow, given the shelves of potato chips on one side and an island of cases of soft drinks in the middle. Essentially, the aisle was divided into two one-way streets.
If traditional rules of the road prevailed, in theory, I was taking the correct approach. I was traveling on the right side of the aisle while oncoming traffic should have been on the other side of the Island of Coca Cola.
I was near the end of my one-way street when a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) turned the corner and chose to enter the same one-way street I was using… but in the opposite direction.
I watched him as he picked up different bags of chips and quickly put them down without tossing any into his cart. I sensed that something weird was brewing.
Then he paused, not making eye contact with me, still looking in the direction of the shelf. His body language showed that he not actively looking for anything anymore.
Something was up.
Was this a showdown of some sort?
Who will blink next? Me, the guy who was near the end of the one way street, or the gentleman (and I use the term loosely) who had just entered the one-way street with seemingly no apparent reason for being there.
The possible moves of this unexpected chess game played out at lightning speed in my brain like an episode of “The Gambit”.
The answer came pretty quickly to me and I was pleased that it was a very authentic, very “me” response.
I politely asked in a sweet voice, “Excuse me, could I please get through?”
He responded swiftly (almost too swiftly, like he’d been down this road before), “Well one of us is going to have to back up.” In chess terms, that was “check” toward me.
Without giving it any further thought or energy, I retreated and backed up my cart and proceeded down the opposite side of the aisle to get around him. I wasn’t going to engage him any further. Game over.
The only outward expression of annoyance on my part was a stern eyeball roll. I didn’t sigh out loud nor did I say a word. In retrospect, I would have liked to mumble “asshole” but what point would it have served? I like to think I’m classier than that and wise enough to not waste my time trying to “make a point” for someone with a chip (but not the potato kind) on his shoulder.
Over the course of my lifetime, well-meaning friends often urged me to take unacceptable situations and to “make a point” which only seemed to add to my stress. Not this time!
If “assholedness” is a reflex that is hard wired in the psyche of this gentleman (and I use the term loosely), is a re-parenting attempt on my part going to make any difference? Of course not. So seriously, why even try to make a point?
Frankly, I’m not competitive enough or stupid enough to feel a need to prove any kind of alpha status in a duel using grocery carts… to me that would be a situation better suited in a sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”
If for whatever reason, he needed that situation to feel better about himself or to elevate himself, well so be it. He succeeded. But deep down, I hope he knows that it was a hollow victory.
In not engaging him further, I hope I spoiled his fun… if that was indeed his fun for the day.
I wonder if in his own world, maybe he lacked control over circumstances and this was his way of restoring some sense of balance. When I feel overwhelmed by things that are out of my control, I like to clean closets, but hey, that’s just me and my coping mechanism.
If bullying a complete stranger into submission in a grocery aisle makes him feel like a good citizen of the world, then I feel very sorry for him. And this applies not just in the grocery aisle, but anywhere… I don’t get the point of rudeness and lack of courtesy.
I am proud of the way that I handled the situation: I knew right away that he wasn’t going to budge, I knew that he wasn’t going to blink. The best part was that I didn’t torture myself through the process of wondering what to do.
A lifetime of lessons finally sunk in: I quickly let it go and moved on.
I took the high road (even if it was the wrong side of the aisle) and feel quite good about it!
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