You are on a checkout line at the supermarket.
When you joined it, it was the shortest of six. But it’s moving slowly. The line to the left of you seems to be moving faster. You glance at the cashier at the end of your line. He looks bored. The young woman cashing out the line next to you looks energized. And now it’s moving even faster!
You back out of your line and angle your cart in that direction, only to find that someone else – a Neanderthal-looking guy — has beaten you to it. He gets there ahead of you. So you retreat. But the person who had been behind you in the first line has taken your place and won’t let you back in.
Your pulse quickens. You are anxious and frustrated – on the verge of anger.
“This is foolish,” you think. “Calm down.” You count your breaths. And gradually you do.
In a few minutes, your line starts moving faster. Hope springs eternal. One by one the shoppers who had been in front of you disappear into the parking lot. Soon there is just one – an old lady with maybe a dozen items in her cart. You look to your left and see that the guy who had “cut” ahead of you in that line is now in third place. You feel good about that. In some part of your mind, you believe that the universe has made things right.
Then you look back and see that the old lady is pulling fistfuls of coupons from her bag. She is fumbling to retrieve them. She seems confused. The cashier rolls his eyes.
“Damn it,” you think. “Damn her and her miserly ways!”
You imagine a litany of snide or even rude comments you’d like to make to her. You look to your left and note that the Neanderthal has checked out and is strolling happily toward the parking lot. He glances back at you. Is he sneering?!
And that old, fumbling,, penny-pinching lady is still pulling coupons from her bag!
Now you are furious. Your blood pressure is palpably high. The universe – that freaking universe that fooled you into pretending it was fair — has played another dirty trick on you.
You gently nudge your cart against the old lady’s and as she looks back at you, you select one of the comments you had mentally filed:
“Do you have any idea how long you are taking?” you growl.
The old lady blushes. She stuffs all the coupons back into her bag. Her hands are shaking as she pays for her groceries. The lady behind you is tsking at your behavior. You lower your head pretending to be examining the contents of your cart. Finally, the old lady is gone.
You push your cart forward and see in the cashier’s eyes a combination of fear and disdain. You are confused. You are angry. And you are ashamed.