30 April 2009

easy go.

Today was the official last day of an SAT prep season that's been in full swing since the beginning of January. It's difficult to overstate how good it feels to be done, or how much I'll enjoy the adult beverage I just poured as I type this, but I'm unsettled tonight because of something that happened to me at lunch today. And well...I haven't had enough time or energy for navel-gazing blog posts in a long time, and now I do so here goes:

I let myself get talked into going to the new Grace's Marketplace near my office. I didn't really want to go because it's expensive and the only other time I went it wasn't so great, but I agreed. So my friend orders the burger that he'd been told was delicious, and I ordered a veggie pizza. I grabbed a drink from the cooler, and headed to the cashier to pay, which is what you do there while the food is prepared before you sit down and wait for the food to come out (a bit of a confusing system for first-timers, which, come to think of it, is another reason I don't like the place).

It wasn't a very busy day in there, so the cashier was involved in a conversation with the woman running the aisle behind her, and it took her a moment to notice me standing there. Eventually she did see me, though, and rang me up. The grand total: $10.85. So, I pull a $20 bill out of my wallet and am about to hand it to her when I decide that I'd rather give her $21, to do the both of us a change-related favor. She took the money out of my hand, still in quasi-conversation with the woman behind her, and handed me back 15 cents.

"I gave you a twenty."

"No, you didn't. See," pointing to the receipt she just printed, "it says here eleven."

"But it only says that because that's what you typed. Which doesn't change the fact that I gave you a twenty."

"No, it was a ten. I put it right here," she said, pointing to the spot in the drawer than tens go.

"No, you put it there. With the other twenties. I watched you."

So it went like that for a while, until finally she decided she would count the whole register. Which I figured would be fine. I would go take my seat with my friend and not create any more of an awkward situation than I already had, and eventually I'd get an apology and my $10 back.

But here's the thing that actually motivated me to sit down and write about this. It's not that, after a register count that I kept half an eye on through lunch and that was replete with much gesticulation and dirty looks in my direction, I was told again to my incredible disbelief that I didn't give her $21. It wasn't that, even though a manager was clearly consulted at some point in the process, no manager ever came to speak to me. It wasn't that the $20.85 I ended up paying didn't even result in such a great pizza, or that my colleague's burger (which he ordered medium-rare) came well-done. It wasn't any of these things. Or maybe it was all of them.

What I've been thinking about ever since I got back to the office and eventually cooled down 2 hours later is how disproportionately angry I found myself getting over what amounts to very little money in the grand scheme of things. I was so preoccupied with peering across the cafe to the cashiers to see if they were still counting that I couldn't carry a conversation. I was so fixated on it afterwards that I was compelled to make the event into a Facebook status update to fish for commiseration (for shame!). I'm a pretty even-keel guy for the most part. What about $10 got me so fired up?

The best answer I can come up with is that I, like most people I know, get a bit flustered when events that should have predictable outcomes don't. This is why it sucks so disproportionately hard when a delivery food order is incorrect, and I think it's why people (or at least why I) get so angry at things like random traffic jams. I need to have faith that when I hand a cashier money, I'll get the right change back. The world is crazy. Some things need to just work.

I have embarrassingly vague recollections from my developmental psychology classes about the lasting damage done to infants that are for whatever reason unable to establish certain predictable outcomes to the kind of interactions infants have with those around them. This paragraph might have led me down a truly Googly rabbit hole if I weren't seriously running out of steam and wondering why I even bothered to write all this up now. So I'll just wrap it up.

Grace's, I'll recover. But you should be more careful. Had I been an infant trying to understand my place in this world...