Confronting a coward

I was standing in line at 7-11 yesterday. The line was long and not moving quickly. There was only one register open and I could see the frustration on the customer’s faces as I entered the line with bottle of Diet Coke in hand. Thankfully I also had my iPhone with me and a healthy supply of podcasts with which to occupy my time. I was listening to Bill Maher’s Real Time and quite content despite the situation.

This is more than I could say for the woman in front of me, a forty-something with a basketful of items and nothing to do. Less than 30 seconds after my arrival in line, she turned and spoke to me despite the headphones that were clearly blocking my ears.

“Can you believe this line?”

I call this type of person a line coward.  This is a person who feels the need to complain to his or her fellow line mates without ever having the guts to say something to the cashier, manager, or owner about whom they are expressing their displeasure. I can’t stand this form of passive-aggressiveness and usually call these cowards out.  But I was doubly frustrated in this case because this particular line coward had interrupted my podcast in order to talk behind the cashier’s  back.

This left me feeling especially frisky.

“I’m sorry,” I answered. “Have you mistaken me for the cashier? Because we’re standing at the back of the line. Not the front.”

The woman was silent for a moment, attempting to process this unexpected retort.  It’s a look with which I am familiar. It asks, “What the hell’s going on here? Are you a loon? Mentally incompetent? Could you be serious?"

Then my sarcasm seemed to penetrate her mind. Comprehension dawned on her face. “Gimme a break,” she replied, dropping her eyes to avoid eye contact. “I was just saying…”

Normally this would have been the end of my attack, but like I said, this particular line coward had felt the need to interrupt my podcast with her nonsense, so I pressed the issue a little further.

“Because if you have something to say to a person, you should say it to their face and not talk about them behind their back.”

Rather than shoving the woman any further into her shell, this last remark caused her to come roaring back out. An admitted miscalculation on my part.

“Look, I have a right to my opinion, you jerk. Why don’t you go to hell?”

This is the great thing about these line fights. Unless you’re willing to abandon your carriage and the time you took to shop, there’s no place for either combatant to go, including hell.

“I have a better idea,” I said. “If you have a complaint, don’t force it upon strangers.”

She responded with an unfortunate series of words and I opted to cut things off there. It was clear that the woman was beginning to lose her temper and would either begin crying or screaming if I pressed the issue any further. I returned my headphones to my ears, cranked up Bill Maher and smiled, only breaking eye contact when she finally turned around.

Apparently a couple of the customers standing in line with us did not approve of my verbal challenge. As they left the store, they shot me the stink eye. I was inclined to shout, “Spare me your dirty looks and come to her aid next time, you bunch of cowards!”

But I restrained myself.