The Corner of Bitter and Christmas

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I went shopping last week. It was earlier in the day, around 11am, on a weekday when stores aren’t usually busy.

I sat on a rather large bench to try on the shoes. It could have easily sat four people, but the sales person set the shoes on the bench next to me leaving room for at least two other people. I tried on a pair. A woman came up, she was lingering around, looking at shoes. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything other than the comfort of the shoes I was trying on. The woman set down the box of shoes in one empty space, set down her large purse in her other empty seat, and continued to stand.

When I got up to walk over to the mirror and examine my shoes, she pushed my shoe boxes further over, said something to her husband that I did not hear, and took my seat.  I didn’t say anything, assuming she’d be gone by the time I returned anyway.

She tried on the new shoes, changed back into her shoes, and stood up just as I imagined. I went over, sat back down, and tried on the other pair of shoes. I got up again, expecting she’d take my seat again, but she did not. She grabbed her things, looked my way, and said something like “what’s wrong with some people?”

At the register, the cashier was ringing out the first person in line. There were two other people in front of me. The cashier had forgotten to take the customer’s return from the final price. The customer was very impatient. The woman behind her turned to her friend and said something, loud enough for everyone to hear, about the customer. Sensing an argument that I didn’t want to be a part of, I checked my phone. The customer having the problem walked away without a purchase, causing more negative comments from the friends behind her about how she’d wasted their time. They turned to me, an attempt to bring me into their circle. I looked at my phone, avoided their gaze.

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After that purchase, I needed to pick up an order from another counter. Another long line, so I waited. Again, more impatient people. The woman in front of me walked up to another sales person, “can’t you get someone else to help?” She returned, looked at me, and tried to bring me into her circle of complaining about the service.

The first thing that occurs to me is: 1. We have become a very impatient society. I remember waiting in long lines with my mother as a child. People waited patiently, because the wait was expected. Today, with our instant society, no one is expected to wait, and no one expects to have to wait.  Does anyone remember the long lines in a Blockbuster video store on a Friday evening?  and 2. The Christmas Season is upon us. The season where, unlike the ideal – let their be peace on earth, people are more stressed than at any other time of the year.

Let’s be honest. Christmas time is not the most wonderful time of the year. ESPECIALLY when you’re shopping.

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Even every day activities, like running to the market for the usual items, becomes more of a chore. The lines are longer, which honestly is NOT the problem. The problem is how the people act in those lines.

At a local  market, I got into the wrong line. I did not see the 15 Items or Less Sign. The person in front of me had a full cart. The man behind me had a full cart. I had probably 20 items. At least two other people in that line waited patiently behind that man without saying a word. But a man walked up to the very back of the line and instantly started complaining. I didn’t pay attention. To hear people complaining about lines is like white noise in the supermarket. But his voice kept getting louder, closer, then he was behind me. He was yelling – YELLING – at the man behind me about having too many items. The man moved his cart and let him go in front of him. The cashier was just about to ring through my things when the man moved his attention to me – “I guess you can’t read either.”  I turned around to see, yes, he was indeed speaking to me. He had two children with him. I had no idea what he was talking about until he pointed out the small sign over the register. He had successfully bullied himself to the front of the line and I was the only one standing in his way to be first. The cashier paused, wondering if I was going to let him in front of me. And, you know what, had he called it to my attention nicely, had he asked me with any decency, had he not just bullied the other people in line and berated the old man behind me, I would have let him go – But, it’d been a long day, I was tired, and this man was an asshole. I told him to take a flying leap – well, we’ll say those are the words I used. And the cashier rang me through. The man was still not satisfied with being next; he continued yelling until the manager came over and took him to another register to wait on him personally.

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These things happen every day around the holidays. People are pressured, stressed, trying to make their holiday the best for their family, try to get things done between work and other responsibilities, and people lose their patience, if not their minds, in the effort to do so.

Welcome to the corner of bitter and Christmas.

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We are supposed to be nicer this time of year, more patient, more beautiful to one another, but so many people lose sight of that.

When I must go out and face the crowds, I prepare myself by telling myself that I must be more patient than those who are not, kinder than those who are not, and I must smile especially for those who are not.

At one sale, my daughter handed me a prized purse; the last of its kind. I wasn’t certain I wanted it but, if I put it down, it’d be gone. I was looking at the purse, wondering if I should really buy it just because it was the last of its kind and everyone else wanted it, when I noticed the woman across the display from me.  I smiled.  She smiled.  “I’m sorry,” she said. “If you’re going to put it back, I’d like to have it.” I handed it to her. She was extremely grateful and happy. I’d made her day. Now, that’s the Christmas Spirit.

I don’t go out on Black Friday. There is nothing I want or need that is worth fighting – literally – fighting for. The stores set things up like a competition – think about it: Competitive Shopping! I say, don’t give in!

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In light of everything that is going on in our society right now, in the world, I say keep your common sense, keep your dignity, keep your smile, and stay patient in the face of those who are not. Do not meet them at the corner of bitterness and Christmas, come on over to the Self Respect Cafe and relax.

Less stress means fewer wrinkles, better sleep, an overall better feeling throughout the holiday season – and you’ll never have see one of those embarrassing pictures of yourself.

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This season – be kind, be happy.

About Noreen Lace

Originally from the Midwest, Noreen Lace received an MFA from California State University where she now teaches. She believes in the beauty of language to express the darkness in life. She is the author of two novellas, West End and Life of Clouds, as well as a book of short stories. Here in the Silence. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in national as well as international journals, including The Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal, The Oleander Review, Vine Leaves Press (Australia), Silver Stream Journal (Ireland), Pilcrow and Dagger, Fishfood, and others. "Memorial Day Death Watch," a memoir of her father's passing, placed as a finalist in Writer Advice, while her poem, "All at Once," was published as a finalist in Medusa's Laugh Contest issue. More work is always in progress.
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