Things I am bad at include: carrying on a conversation while attempting to do something else.
For example, I am bad at supermarket cashier chat. Maybe it’s because I moved from an area where nobody cares if you’re having a good day to an area where people genuinely hope you have a blessed one and I’m just not used to this kind of thing. “What are you, stupid?” is a legitimate greeting in Pennsylvania, particularly the eastern part of the state, usually followed by a sad shake of the head and a mumbled “Dumb-@$$ motherf*cker.”
(I find that I’m constantly bracing myself against a scam, only to feel vaguely disappointed when the scam never materializes. Because I do appreciate a good one, and will often reward it with the meager change that finds its way into my pockets. Alas, very few con artists deliver the goods in terms of a creative sob story or bizarre barter arrangement…honestly, what am I going to do with an entire case of motor oil?)
And then there are The Machines. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that sit next to the cash register and subject hapless customers (like me) to public humiliation every single time they make a purchase. Which direction do you swipe the card? Stripe on the left side facing up? No, turn it over. Damn it, I was right the first time. Do I want credit or debit? Is it ok to put in my PIN now? Wait, do I want cash back? Oh $#!+, I just hit the wrong button and now the cashier has to cancel the entire transaction! Uh-oh, the people behind me are starting to get pissed off…
Why isn’t there a standard? Why are these things like phone chargers? Just have one shape, one standard procedure. No one has time to figure out 17 different configurations, just like no one has space in their brains to memorize 12 distinct passwords, each containing no more than 3 numbers, a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, and at least 1 special character.
So as you can see, I am already treading water here. A simple “Hi, how are you today?” will just push my head under and hold it down.
I know. I could just pay cash, but I’m even worse at basic arithmetic.
Having given the matter some thought, I’ve decided that I want a bracelet that a cashier can scan that will deduct credits from my account. Yes, like a debit card except on my wrist, so that I can just wave my arm and have things taken care of instead of fumbling for my wallet and sifting through a solid inch of expired bus passes and “buy 10 get the 11th free” punch cards. I think this notion originally came to my attention via some SF novel I read like, ten or eleven years ago, while I was living in the Eurozone and struggling with mental currency conversions.
Although it’s likely that this semi-remembered book only reinforced what was already the unifying theme of nearly all my (non-sexual) fantasies — that I can just wave my arm and make things get sorted out.
Including how to buy a thing while talking to a person. Once again, I could just do what the rest of humanity does and figure out how not to mumble and look apprehensive when people say things to me, but since it hasn’t happened yet, I’m not sure it will. I might be a surly teenager for my entire life. After all, I am still waiting to all of a sudden Get Hot.
I mention this because people who encounter me tend to think I’m sullen or rude and while, on balance, that’s probably accurate, I would like to draw a sharp distinction between intentional sullenrude and ostensible sullenrude. Because if for some reason I decide to deliver sullenrude upon you, BY GOD you will know it when it hits you.
Anyway, I was going somewhere with this, I’m sure of it.
If you should chance upon the tiny town of Carrboro, you will discover that all roads lead to Weaver Street Market — which some people, who have not received enough smacks upside the head in their lifetime, insist on calling “The Weave.”
There you will find Bruce, a local celebrity of sorts. He dances, he dresses like he’s the priest of his own awesome religon, and once, when asked if he maintained any sort of online presence, he replied, “Man, I’m on the infinite Internet.”
I encourage you to go and see Bruce, and if the opportunity arises, to chat with him. Normally, I’d provide a picture, but I have never photographed him, because it feels like it would be a violation of his essential Bruce-ness.
As for all the other hula hooping, trust-funded residents of Carrboro, idling towards graduate degrees in global public health administration policy and wearing too-tight jeans while loudly expressing opinions on nutmeg, or else blocking the aisles with your thousand-dollar double-strollers and pasty toddlers whose heads resemble Yoda’s, be forewarned: it’s open season, and I’ve got both a camera and semi-reliable Internet access. You will be mocked.
Anyway, yesterday I went and bought some ready-to-eat food — enough to see us through the weekend, since we have limited access to a kitchen, not to mention electricity. And then, because I can’t multi-task (told you I was getting there), I forgot my groceries. Nearly in tears, I raced back (ok, saying that the Flying Eggplant “raced” anywhere is probably not accurate, given that it starts grumbling, deep in its engine, when you go above 40mph) to the store and searched high and low. And then I saw Bruce and one of his colleagues, sitting at a table with a paper bag of groceries sitting between them.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I said. “Have you, by any chance, seen a lost bag of groceries?”
They smiled, indicated the bag, and exchanged nods — they seemed as delighted as I was that the universe had seen fit to reunite me with my food. I thanked them profusely for looking after my groceries and wished them a pleasant evening. And, for a little while, it was.