Alone With J
By J SWYGART
Before taking off on a mini diatribe on the sometimes annoying habits of others — which I am about to do — let it be said that I know I’m not perfect; that I often do things which leave others scratching their heads or mumbling words (usually they type unsuitable for publication in a family newspaper) under their breath.
And, to go even further, were it not for my own particularly bad habit — smoking — the questionable conduct of others might not even be an issue. But because I find myself at a convenience store on a daily basis (yes, I know; I could buy my cigarettes a carton at a time, but there’s a chance I will stop smoking any day now. Yeah ... right) I have the opportunity to see humanity at its sometimes worst.
Let’s break the major offenders down into four categories: Chatty customers, over-friendly store clerks, lottery players ... and drunks. The last one is a new entry in the “boy that was annoying” sweepstakes, but more on that later.
Anyway, let’s start with the recognition that Decatur is a friendly town. Everybody knows everybody, and for the most part pretty much like each other. That’s a good thing — a great thing, actually, unless you’re stuck in line as old acquaintances are renewed on a seemingly daily basis.
Whether running late for work or simply just waiting to get home and shake off the day’s cobwebs, I’m usually in a hurry. Other people, it seems — not so much.
“Hi Millie! How have you been?” the customer at the cash register might ask.
“I’m good, Sandy. We just got a new grandbaby,” the clerk replies.
“Oh really! That’s wonderful. So is that Jimmy’s family? What’s he doing these days? Is he still living in Indy?” asks Sandy.
Tick ... tick ... tick.
Anyway, you get the picture. It’s a lovely slice of Americana, but it can on occasion drag on ... and on ... and on. While the line grows.
And the tenor of the conversation is largely dependent upon the age the parties involved. If you’re lucky (?) enough to get in line with both a teenage clerk and customer, the conversation will more than likely revolve around who said what to whom in Life Skills class that day — where it’s obvious that certain life skills are being ignored — or where the party will be held on the coming weekend.
But, I’ve come to realize, it all goes with the turf of living in a small community. And it’s nothing I can’t cope with.
The same can barely be said, however, of the worst convenience store “I’m-in-line-ahead-of-you-so-sorry-about-your-luck” offenders: Lottery fanatics.
By now I guess I should have figured out what days the Super Lotto or the Super Duper Lotto or the Mother of All Lotto drawing are held. But I haven’t.
And you always know you’re in trouble when the person in front of you has one of those “official” lottery folders. You’ve seen them; a zippered pouch bulging with stubs and tickets and whatever. And when the individual hands a stack of paper to the clerk and says “can you check these for winners,” you may as well just go over to the snacks section and grab yourself a candy bar or something. This is not going to be a short transaction.
Then there are the “amateur” lottery players. They’re the ones who love the scratch-off tickets, but always seem unable to make a decision on which particular piece of cardboard they prefer to throw their money away on.
“Gimme a Number 2, five Number 6’s and four Number 3’s. No, wait, make that three Number 3’s and a Number 11.”
When they start to scratch the tickets at the counter — and it has happened — is when I start making audible sounds of displeasure. I have my limits.
Then there is the newest member of the club. Apparently its a small club, because I met my first and, to date, only member the other night. It’s the happy drunk.
The gentleman was ahead of me in line at the gas station. He was buzzed. I wanted cigarettes. He wanted to chat. Not with me, thankfully, but with the clerk. And he did, much to the clerk’s dismay.
It went on far too long for any of our liking. But mercifully it did eventually end. Just another chapter in the day-in-a-life world of small town America.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat. A decision to stop smoking may be in his future, not only for his physical health but for his mental well-being, too.