I don’t know if I have terrible karma, negative juju, horrible fortune or just plain ol’ bad luck, but it seems like every time there is an opportunity for “worst case scenario” to happen, it happens to me. I don’t mean anything horrible – I obviously haven’t been shot in the head or run over by a bread truck yet. I’m just talking about the annoying kind of worst case scenario.
For instance, the last time I was at the Secretary of State to renew my plates I noticed one of the employees (Shirley) was getting trigger happy with that number call button thingy they have. I thought to myself, ‘she’s going to make them skip someone’s number.’ I clutched tightly to my little number 57, and I just knew it would be me. They moved through the 40s all right, and even into the early 50s without incident. They called 56 and I scooted up to the edge of my chair. I made sure my book was tucked inside my bag, and I had already checked my surroundings for things that may have fallen out of my purse-- even though I knew nothing had. Before the lady standing in front of her even put her money away, Shirley clicked the number counter without saying a word. I saw the 57 pop up on the screen, and I began to stand. I didn’t want to rush the poor lady out of the window and I didn’t want to creep up on her while she was trying to put money away, so I waited an extra second by my chair. In the meantime another window became open, and another cashier clicked the number and called for 58. Mr. 58 sauntered up to his window. I didn’t say anything because I was still going to head toward Shirley’s window as soon as Miss Neat Purse was done straightening her bills and tucking them away. I was certain this wasn’t as bad as my wandering thoughts were making it out to be. Finally Neat Purse started to step away from the window, and you’ll never believe what Shirley did…..she clicked that stupid number thingy again and loudly called for 59. Seriously! 59 was a heavyset lady, clearly on her lunch hour from her office job, and she was not about to let anyone cut in front of her neatly pressed pantsuit. Shirley saw both of us making our way toward her window and I could tell she was racking her brain trying to remember what she had been trained to do when customers started to fight. Pantsuit made eye contact with me, then looked back at Shirley, and in a tone that conveyed “I don’t know what the hell she thinks she’s doing,” she spouted “I AM 59.” She waived her little paper 59 around, as if it meant something. I was not about to try to fight fire with fire. I backed off and made sure Pantsuit knew I meant no harm to her timed lunch hour.
I held up my number, even though no one was close enough to see it, and I said in the meekest voice I could muster, “I am 57. I got skipped.” Pantsuit’s face clearly told me that it was my own darn fault. Shirley started sputtering and looking at the other cashiers, trying to decide if she was going to throw a coworker under the bus or stick the blame on the customer. She decided on the customer. She told me that the numbers are automated and every number is in the system… as if I was accusing the Secretary of State’s office, or even the entire state of Michigan, of not including the number 57 in their automated number system. I could see Shirley convincing herself that this was my claim and simultaneously working up her defense. “There was a 57 in there yesterday. I know it’s in there,” she said in a voice that I think was meant more to convince herself than me.
Sometimes I come on strong. Bold. Assertive. Ready to put someone in their place. But I played it all out in my head, and I couldn’t come up with a single version of the story where Shirley was able to understand my explanation of what had happened without me repeating and rewording the story four different times. Nor was I coming up with a version of the story where click-happy-Shirley owned her mistake. I realized that it would take longer to explain than it would to just wait for Pantsuit, and then take my turn paying for my tabs. So I looked Pantsuit in the eye, smiled and told her to go ahead, and then I kindly let Shirley know I would wait right there and she could get me next.
As Pantsuit slid away from the counter and I slyly moved in, Shirley looked at me with her annoyed look. She clearly didn’t have time to deal with stupid customers who don’t pay attention. My transaction took less than two minutes; my saving grace being that I already had my check written out. I wanted to reason with Shirley. I wanted her to think about the type of customer who shows up at the window with their check already written. Does that sound like the type of customer to not pay attention to the numbers, to not come when their number is called, or to blame the state of Michigan for faulty numbering? But alas, I said nothing; Shirley said nothing. We both thought we were being the bigger person. We both thought the other was in the wrong. But only one of us was willing to cling so tightly to being right that it would ruin the rest of our day.
For the record, it wasn’t me.