I’m waiting in line at the bank to deposit my paycheck. Normally I handle my finances online but, since the Bistro doesn’t offer direct deposit, I have to make this trip at least once a week. As usual there’s only one teller working the floor. The line inches forward slowly. I glance at my watch. Damn, I’m probably going to be late for work.
The teller signals for the next customer. The old lady ahead of me shuffles to the window. She pulls four deposit books out of her purse and asks the teller to double check every one.
“I thought I had more money than this,” she warbles nervously, “is the bank taking out extra fees?”
The teller patiently examines each deposit book. There’s nothing wrong with the lady’s accounts. Like many elderly people this woman’s worried about her finances to the point of neuroses. Probably comes in twice a week to check her savings. Taking a deep breath I try and relax. My last job in the mental health field was working with senior citizens. They were always grousing about money.
The man behind me mutters, “Goddamn it, why is there only one teller?”
Whispering conspiratorially I reply, “They want to increase their profit margin by not having to pay tellers, hoping to frustrate people into banking online by understaffing.”
“That’s bullshit,” the guy hisses.
I turn around and look at the man. Late fifties, tall, with a ruddy complexion and a nose riddled with busted capillaries, he looks so angry I fear he’ll stroke out any second.
“We’ll be outta here soon.” I say.
The man ignores me. Oh well.
Grandma’s having a panic attack by the teller window. She insists the teller recheck all her books again. Behind me Red Nose’s breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This is taking forever.
Another teller appears and opens up her window. Thank God. I’m next.
“Hello,” I say politely, “May I have a checking deposit slip?” I’m fresh out and they don’t have any in the lobby.
“Of course sir,” she replies.
I’m filling out the deposit slip when Red Nose says, “Look at this jerk. He should have filled out his paperwork before he got in line.”
I smile weakly at the teller and finish writing in the one’s and zeros.
“You’re inconsiderate pal, do you know that?” Red Nose says angrily.
Ignoring him, which is usually the best course of action, I slide my paperwork under the partition.
“You should show some common courtesy!” Red Nose yells.
Something in me snaps.
“And you should try showing some patience buddy,” I say, with a subtle trace of menace.
Looking Red Nose straight in the eye I say, “You’re headed for a heart attack pal. Calm down.”
Red Nose looks stunned that someone talked back to him. He’s probably gone his entire life bullying people with his mouth.
“You’re all set sir,” the teller says meekly. I’ll bet she’s glad she’s behind an inch of bulletproof glass.
I slowly examine my documents. Stuffing them in my pocket I head toward the entrance. Passing Red Nose an inch too close I whisper, “Have a nice day asshole.”
Red Nose backs up. There’s less fight in his face. I walk out the door.
By the time I get in the car I’m thinking I could’ve handled that situation better. At work I use humor or a witty comeback to neutralize sticky situations. But not today. Today I got all macho. Maybe because I take so much shit at work I didn’t want to take any in “civilian life.” Who knows? I try and forget about it.
Of course, traffic’s slowed to a crawl. People are frantically changing lanes, jockeying to get a car length ahead. An SUV tries to wedge itself in front of me. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” I yell, inching up to block his path.
The driver of the SUV throws up his hands in frustration. I can’t hear what he’s saying but I can read lips. Yeah pal, like getting in front of me is gonna save you a magic minute. Who cares? I’ve got places to go too.
After what seems an interminable wait the traffic eases up. I make up lost time and pull into the parking lot. I have a few minutes to treat myself to a vanilla latte and the NY Times before my shift starts. I hope there isn’t a line at Starbucks.
Crossing the street I can see there’s no wait at the coffee bar. But I have an uncanny ability to pick out which pedestrians are going walk into Starbucks. I spy a middle aged guy carrying a computer briefcase, two mothers with babies, and a kid with a goatee, all lumbering towards the entrance. Shit. If I end up behind these people while they order their chemistry experiments I’ll be late. I covertly put some hustle into my step, trying not to make it look like I’m racing for the door. The middle aged guy sees me. He’s thinking what I’m thinking. He picks up his pace.
But I’m faster.
By the time the barista hands me my latte the line for coffee stretches out the door. “Way to go man,” I chuckle to myself, “You beat everyone out.”
I walk into the Bistro bang on time. Finishing my side work I sit down with my paper and coffee. I need a little “me time” before the circus starts.
Coming across an article about how oversize baby strollers are becoming the new status symbol for reproducing yuppies, I groan inwardly. I can’t tell you how many times parents have jammed up the Bistro’s aisles with their overpriced “Baby SUV’s.” The article goes on to describe how these strollers are becoming the flashpoint in the unspoken conflict between those who choose to have children and those who don’t. Reading the story of an argument that ensues when a mother rams her stroller into a childless woman holding a cat I read this frightening bit of sentiment,
“With each swipe she (the mother) took at the Feline Mom she seemed to be making a transparently veiled assertion that having babies is what makes us better people. Having babies means winning.”
Sick to my stomach I put down the paper. Is this what out society is coming to? Having babies means winning? Have we become so competitive that reproduction is becoming a status symbol? That’s nuts. Most of my busgirls have children and I never hear this sort of bullshit. Maybe it’s just an American yuppie thing.
“Hey Jake,” I say calling my newest waiter over,” check this shit out.”
After I relate the story Jake smiles and says, “When I wake up in the morning you know what I sometimes say to myself?”
“What?” I reply.
“I’m gonna win today,” he says.
Jake’s words hit me like a thunderbolt. Suddenly I understand why I mixed it up with the guy at the bank.
“Sometimes you feel like you have to come out on top,” I say.
“Which, more often than not, is an illusion.”
“We’re just wired that way I guess,” Jake says walking away.
I’m gonna win today. That’s how I felt in the bank. That’s how I felt on the highway and in Starbucks. Not a healthy sense of competition or ambition, just a grubby graspy feeling of “I want what I want when I want it.” That attitude is more appropriate for those infants squealing in their Baby Hummers than a grown man. The irony that I berate customers displaying the exact same attitude in my blog is not lost on me.
I’m gonna win today.
I shrug. I’m a sinner too I guess. Go figure.
The door chimes. Two of my least favorite customers walk in the door.
I get up, put on the customer service smile, and seat them by the window. They immediately start crabbing that the Bistro’s too cold.
“Yep, I’m a sinner,” I think to myself as I lower the A/C, “And from the looks of these two customers I’m a sinner in the hands of an angry God.”
The rest of the shift is pure torture. Karma I guess.