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Monday, July 27, 2015

Being dissed at Wegmans

While I despise the summer heat I love the produce available during the summer. Corn season has just begun and I can say with confidence that I eat corn on a daily basis in July through September.  I truly love the local farm stands in Central New York. It is not just the corn but the local produce that is truly remarkable. When I was in downtown Boston for a week I ate too much prepackaged food and went out to eat far more than I wanted. Hence, I have been eager to cook and today, despite a full belly, I went wild in Wegmans produce section. Peaches, nectarines, watermelon, multiple varieties of berries, mangos, plums etc. abounded. The peppers, onions, carrots and beets looked wonderful. I was ridiculously happy shopping. The store was not crowded a big deal for me as the produce section is very difficult to navigate when crowded. Better yet, the automated check out line was a very short. I sharply prefer self check out. I bag things in a particular order so that I can get to my car and unpack items more quickly.

As I was nearing the end of scanning all my items I noticed an agitated woman began getting closer and closer to me. I was not sure why she was getting so close. I am pretty fast at self check out. I know the system and perhaps the only difference it is that I bag in an order that might not make sense to bipedal people. Nothing I thought can bother me today. Oh my was I wrong. The agitated woman in question talks loudly over my head and states to an employee standing in the area "Help him. He is going too slow". The employee replied "I asked him if he needed help already and he always says no".  The woman in questions heavily sighs and says "You know some of us have jobs and are in a rush to get things done. The nerve of some people". The employee responds "He is pretty quick but gets stuck on non bar coded produce and has a weird way of packing that takes a while". Okay, I have had it at this point. I stop back up, turn and tell the employee: "Your engagement with the other customer and entire conversation is point blank rude. Please do not talk as if I am not present. I am a human being". The employee is stunned. I turn to the agitated woman and tell her "You are rude and disrespectful. To talk to the employee as if I did not exist is as shocking as it is grossly inappropriate. You are a bigot". The woman's face flushes red in anger as she mutters something under her breath and now rapidly starts tapping her foot on the floor. In classic passive aggressive behavior I instantly slow down. I am precise with my bagging. I consider and rearrange every item that goes into my three bag system. I do not double tie each bag but triple tie them in an effort to slow down even further. This is not a good character trait but it does prevent me from cursing and really losing my temper. All know what I am doing. The Wegmans employee is smirking. She knows exactly what I am doing as does the agitated customer.

I thought about this innocuous encounter on my drive home. The assumptions made by the agitated woman were as basic as they were wrong. She assumed I was unemployed and had nowhere to go. My life was unimportant. She was in every way possible superior economically and socially. I was slowing down a mover and shaker. Think Tom Wolf and Bonfire of the Vanities. She was the female version of Sherman McCoy or Oliver Stone's Wall Street protagonist Gordon Gekko. Somehow I doubt we were thinking along the same lines. Silently I wondered if I engaged her could I make her see the light? Had she ever read Tom Wolf's Bonfire of the Vanities? Did she know the phrase Wolf used to title his book referred to the burning of objects that were condemned by the powerful as representations of sin? Did she know the phrase itself typically refers to a specific bonfire that took place on February 7, 1497? Did she know who Girolamo Savonarola was and that he burned books, paintings and other objects? A sin took place at Wegmans; the woman in question did not consider that my life had value. Bioethicists would write my personhood or autonomy was violated. For me, this interaction was Goffmanesque. This was not just about disability. I would venture to guess that others have had similar encounters with this woman. Certainly the elderly struggling with arthritic fingers and perhaps other minority groups. The entitlement was the shock for me. It reminded me of one of the most quoted sentences in Wolf's book:

There it was, the Rome, the Paris, the London of the twentieth century, the city of ambition, the dense magnetic rock, the irresistible destination of all those who insist on being where things are happening—and he was among the victors! He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York—no Comp. Lit. scholar, perhaps, but gorgeous—beside him! A frisky young animal! He was of that breed whose natural destiny it was…to have what they wanted.

A breed apart. Destiny that is preordained. Utter crap in my estimation. Give me the person with a unique body. Give me the person that has led an interesting life one with hardships that forged character. Give me FDR! The man in my opinion would not have been president had it not been for polio. Indeed, our nation would be quite different had FDR not had polio and become president. Polio forged his identity and by extension his presidency. FDR did not hide his disability nor concoct an "elaborate deception" as Hugh Gallagher maintained. One and all knew FDR was crippled. The nation needed him and the electorate chose to ignore the existence of his physical disability. They saw what the man could do and the nation was desperate for a leader. Americans were riveted by FDR's inaugural address when he famously stated; This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. No doubt these are two great sentences. But many forget the sentence that followed shortly there after: Our collective difficulties, thank God, concern only material things. I love this line as well. For me, it makes me aware I am not alone. I am not the only cripple that has endured social injustice.  I am not the only person this woman has thoughtlessly demeaned. I am not an inferior human being but rather one of many. The many have power. The many will endure. I will endure. To reaffirm the power of endurance  listen to not only FDR original broadcasts but those by his wife Eleanor and the following American Radio works program. Link: 


Unknown said...

Steve, This is a time that I can pretty much assure you that being wheel chair bound was not the reason for the complaint, though, yes, a bigot would have brought that into the picture. Not sure if the complaining woman and Wegman employee did.I would have gotten and have gotten similar complaints when some impatient jerk feels I am not moving fast enough. I tend to be slower in the self check out packing when there is produce in the mix because I want to get it home unbruised and as undamaged as possible. Too bad when the person behind me is in a hurry and wants me to toss it all in the bag like she will be doing with her canned goods. That is my take on what happened here. That you were in a wheelchair just gave her even more ammo.

The employee should be chastized for his statements. He should have firmly supported your right to take the time to pack the way you pleased in the self check lane and simply reminded the woman of that right and assured her that you have been offered assistance and prefer to do it your self as is your right. SImply that without any other remarks.

Love Wegmans. A benefit of upstate. Don't let them rush you in packing the produce.

Obsinguod said...

The employee at Wegman's was right every way; it wasn't going to make things faster getting you involved in chat. Nope. Still, since it's a self-check the machine should have had a button for excluding other people trying to horn in on it. That way, you can perform magic tricks to make it look like you're paying in RMB and getting change in puppies, to see if Persons Certain You Are Stepping On Them can sort that out.

Obsinguod said...

Maybe she actually didn't have the option of bugging out and her parking app has her reserved in 5 minute intervals? Intern on a short leash? The tying bags thing brought back bad moments from her foreign service?

Next 5 years asking all her friends: How am I a baguette?

william Peace said...

Obsinguod, I do not agree Wegman employee was right in every way as you put it. There are many ways this exchange could have been handled differently. On that point we agree. A simple reply could have been "please direct yourself to the man you are speaking about".