I missed Movember so when I woke up today sporting a four-day stubble I told my wife to chalk it up to Becember rather than sloth. Then I donned my heavy zip up sweatshirt popular with the construction crowd and went out to pick up some things at the local Trader Joe’s.
I didn’t look the part. People like to look good at TJ’s, maybe because it is a good pick up spot for the upper middle class. But I wasn’t looking for action, just coffee and some 19 cent bananas, and so ventured in looking like I was not from the neighborhood.
It was busy and lines were beginning to form at those odd check out counters they have there, the ones where you can’t quite tell what side you are supposed to unload your groceries from. It doesn’t help that it is hard to tell the clerks from the customers, with both in warm weather looking like they just got in from a Jimmy Buffet concert.
There was one person in front of me as I arrived in line. She had wheeled a fair amount of stuff in a large grocery cart up to the cashier, on the cashier side, and the clerk was beginning to go through it. Since I had a hand-carry device, I figured out I needed to come up on the other side. I did so, and placed the small plastic carrier into the wedge cut into the counter from which the cashier could unload it when she was done with the person in front of me.
ME: Is it OK that I put this here for now?
CLERK: Sure, no problem.
Just then I remembered I needed to get a box of crackers.
ME: I am just running for crackers. I’ll be right back.
So off I went, returning in a moment with the crackers. The cashier hadn’t finished with the person in front of me yet, so I just walked up and deposited the crackers in with the rest of my purchases. But I noticed as I walked in that a man had joined the line, nattily dressed in TJ style. I noticed too that a woman, also put together in that TJ way, had come up the aisle just before me. She walked past my food plainly visible on the counter so that she stood directly across the register from the clerk, and was getting ready to pass her things over the counter to check them out.
ME: Excuse me. (pointing to the groceries in front of me) These were here already.
Politely said, too. I may have looked like a construction worker but I have my manners.
ME: What I mean is, I was here already.
WOMAN: No, you just walked up.
ME: Yes, but as you can see, these groceries were already here. I was here before, and left to run to get some crackers I forgot.
WOMAN: (eyeing the transaction nearing completion and reaching for the lettuce in her carrier) So?
ME: So I am ahead of you in line. And besides which, the line forms behind that next guy back there.
WOMAN: No, I am in front of you and I will check out first.
So, unmoved, she continued preparing to unload. I turned to the next person in line, the one she should have been behind. I figured he would surely see it my way. Alas he, too, seemed to be operating on a special heightened moral level.
GUY IN LINE: You came into line late. You should take your place behind me.
ME: What gives here? Is there some special code at Trader Joe’s that is different from Stop and Shop?
Then it hit.
I looked at her.
I looked at him.
They were naturally allied, both looking the part of TJ shoppers and recognizing a natural affinity.
I was dressed like a construction worker with stubble.
I had been smugged.