On Ice

It’s mighty cold around these parts.

How cold is it?

Cold enough that when I went out yesterday I wore a thick sweater underneath my heaviest coat on which I zipped both the inner and outer zippers. I even deigned to pull the hood over my head to block the wind. For a girl who dresses to accomodate hot flashes rather than thermometer readings, those clothing choices totally reflect the bone chilling atmosphere.

Despite those heroic measures, I was still shaking in my boots.

It wasn’t only the weather that was chilling. I witnessed an incident in the grocery store that really set my teeth on edge.

Like many supermarkets, our local store has a bottle return area just inside the entry doors. There are five bottle return slots, but there are still usually people lined up and waiting to recycle cart loads of plastic empties. (Personally, hauling empty plastic bottles back to the store and standing around feeding them into holes in the wall is enough to turn me completely against drinking soda or beer anyway, but that’s a story for another day.)

There were only a couple of people waiting and I manuevered around them to pull an empty cart out of the queue. Suddenly, an elderly man with a basket full of bottles storms out in front of me and rams his cart up against the basket of another man who had stepped up to the bottle return.

“Just what the h#*$ do you think you’re doing??” he shouted, right in the man’s face. “I have been standing here waiting for the next available slot and you dare to just walk up and take it???”

The other gentleman (also an older man) was nonplussed for a moment. I honestly don’t think he knew this man had been waiting. He said something that I couldn’t hear, but, the first man wasn’t giving up – in fact, he had escalated into full blown rage. He was physically quite a bit taller and bigger than the man he was verbally attacking, and was standing very close to him so that he towered over him. He was shouting directly in his face.

“You need to MOVE YOUR A&$ right now! Did you hear me?  It is not your turn! I have been waiting and waiting and you have NO RIGHT to go in front of me. You better just MOVE YOUR A*&!”

He was going on and on in this vein, and the other man was now getting angry and shouting back, although I couldn’t hear what he was saying. A young mother with two small boys was trying to get her children away. I was trying to hurry my own mother out of the way (which isn’t easy, because she moves pretty slowly these days).  When I finally got inside the store, I ran over to the manager’s window.

“There are a couple of men out there involved in a nasty confrontation,” I said. The manager, a strong, young whippersnapper, headed out to handle the situation, but I could still hear them going at it for several more minutes.

Finally, I saw the manager come in and go back into the store offices and I continued with my shopping. As I wandered through the store, I was shocked to see the aggressor in there shopping, still belligerently muttering as he shoved his cart through the aisles. I imagined he had been sent packing to take his business elsewhere – that was certainly what he deserved, if not a trip to the police station for a cooling off period of his own.

So I’ve been wondering ever since – is behavior like that considered acceptable enough that we simply slap people on the wrist and send them about their normal business? Or are people (like the store manager) fearful of repercussions if they censure customers who behave badly dangerously?

As I watched this man become consumed with rage over a virtually unimportant incident, I couldn’t help but think that if he were carrying a gun there might have been some horrible, even deadly, consequences

And that thought sends the kind of chill up my spine that no amount of warm clothing will prevent.

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17 thoughts on “On Ice

  1. Interesting story, I think that being cut off in a line or in traffic seems to make one’s blood boil faster than anything else. It seems to be a personal affront that gets one’s dander up immediately.

    I have had it happen to me in a queue and I will generally just say to the person that the back of the line is behind so and so. If they acknowledge in a polite manner and move to the back, no problem. Or if they are actually re-joining someone in line, I’m good with that. The problem comes when they just look at you as if you had three eyes and a horn coming out of your head. If the situation warrants, I’ll go to a Manager and ask them to have the person placed in the back of the line. I won’t usually try anything more than that because it’s just not worth the additional aggravation.

    I must say that it would be a wonderful time to have the power of the Force and just say “this is not the line your are looking for” Obi-Wan Kanobi style.

    • I get annoyed when someone cuts in front of me too, and usually politely redirect them – unless it happens to be a large teenager wearing very baggy pants and a knit cap, in which case I just don’t bother because who knows what he’s carrying in his pocket.

      This man’s reaction was all out of proportion to the situation – it seemed like he had just reached his tipping point and this put him over the edge.

      Sad, and scary.

  2. Your story sounds like Houston traffic, without the cars. Aggressiveness and free-floating anger can appear in a flash when someone gets cut off, and the exchange of “gestures” is pretty common. Angry birds, so to speak. 😉

    I’ve not seen the kind of anger you describe for a while. The last time was also in a grocery store. A woman was standing in the 15-items-or-less express line with about 40 items in her basket, and the woman behind her took exception.They got into a verbal confrontation that included some language I’ve only read, never heard.

    In that case, the disregard for the rules was so flagrant the woman was made to move – by a manager who showed up to help out the checker, who looked to be a high school kid.

    Personally, I’m in favor of people having a right to carry, but that’s colored by living in a state being overrun by drug violence and drug gang warfare. The bigger problem is a whole society being told they have a right to be “offended” by anything – even an old man who may or may not have cut the recycling line. It sounds like the manager did a pretty good job of defusing the situation, but I can’t help but wonder who else is suffering the old guy’s wrath.

    • Part of the problem here I think is also the area I live in. Economically, there are a lot of distressed people around here, especially older people, and it doesn’t take much to put them over their stress limit. This man didn’t look all that mentally stable- his clothes were dirty and he had longish hair and a scraggly beard. So that made it even scarier.

  3. I was in line at the Rec Center to sign up for a class. I knew there was a woman to my right who was before me. I was filling out a form and when the man at the counter yelled, “next” I moved forward…not seeing the woman in my line of sight. Well, she came up me to as I moved forward and she was so upset with me. I apologized, told her I thought she had already moved up and let her go in front of me. But she was sooo mad. No amount of apologizing would have erased her anger. Why is everyone so angry?

    • Sometimes I wonder if there are so many people around here who are feeling stressed by job losses and family situations and money problems that they (1) easily lose control of their anger; or (2) just need to feel powerful and in control of a situation.

  4. That is too bad that the aggressor felt as if he needed to be an idiot and treat someone else with disrespect. There is no need for this… You never know what is going on with people, so who knows what set this person off. It is interesting that you brought up the possibility of him having a weapon. In the CWP and LEO circles that I frequent there is a saying. “An armed society is a polite society”. For those of us that do carry concealed weapons, we are acutely aware of these types of situations. We also go out of our way to avoid these types of situations. The best way to diffuse the aggressor is to apologize and move out of his way. I am not saying that it would be fair for the victim to lose his spot in line. I am just saying that sometimes we have to take the high ground, and do whatever we need to do to calm a person who is out of control.

    • I agree, I do think the best way to diffuse this kind of situation is with calmness and politeness – when that doesn’t work, what do you do then?

  5. I think of a quote from Matthew: “Because of more lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” The Lord Himself says that we will see more and more of this sort of thing. I can attest to the increase in evil and lawlessness just in my short lifetime here on earth. I’m glad you took action, but I totally understand a young manager not stepping in. It’s wisdom to back off someone very aggressive. A soft word does often turn aside wrath. We, as Christians, are then called to love our enemy, love those who spitefully use us- which includes abusing us. And offering forgiveness.
    I can feel the churn in your stomach as I read this. So thankful it did not escalate beyond the verbal. Letting go of what lies behind, we press on, zipping up our jackets against the cold.

  6. If being calm and polite does not work then the next stepmis the store manager. If he can not handle the person then the local police should be summoned. Most atores have security officers that are trained to handle these type of situations.

  7. There seems to be a lot of anger and anxiety simmering just below the surface these days. I’m sure it was unsettling for you and others within earshot. Something primal shifts into gear for some people when they are cut off in line or in traffic. It really gets worrisome when some of these folks are behind the wheel of a few thousand pounds of metal on wheels. Something horrible and irrevocable can happen very quickly.

    • It does seem as if lots of folks are just itchin’ for a fight these days. The road rage is a truly scary thing. So much potential for innocent people to get hurt.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read it yesterday. I find anger like this to be very scary, and sadly on the rise. Being who I am, I always wonder about the people’s diets, and what medications they might be taking. There are a lot of drugs out there – prescribed by doctors for all sorts of conditions. If you sneeze there’s a drug, if you’re sad there’s a drug, if you can’t sleep there’s a drug. I can’t help but think that what we ingest can have almost as big an impact on behavior as our monetary/job situation.
    And you’re right about the gun. One of those ‘consequences’ could have been you.

    • You’re right, Nan, especially about the medications. So many older people take a dangerous cocktail of medications, and the side effects can be quite dramatic.

      Another of my friends suggested that dementia could have been playing a role, and that’s also true. No less scary.

  9. Stuff like that scares the heck out of me. Like road rage, but with carts. Everyone seems so angry these days. Sometimes with good reason, but mostly, not. Hope things got resolved before anyone else back there got caught in the crossfire!

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