Standing up in defense of comedy instead of decency

I was standing in the checkout line at Stop & Shop on Sunday, which was a mistake. A snow storm was coming, threatening to dump half a foot of snow on the ground, so the crazy people were out in force, stocking up on food and drink in case of …

I have no idea. The roads were clear by 9:00 AM the next day, like they always are.

The cashier, a young man in his late teens or early twenties, was running my items through the scanner, and a young woman, about the same age, was bagging. The man had just started scanning my items when he turned to the bagger and said, “Can you believe how dumb that old lady was?”

The old lady that her was referring to was the customer in front of me who had just departed. For some reason, this elderly woman had a difficult time using her credit card. Rather than inserting it into the chip slot, she first tried to hand the card to the cashier, and when he pointed at the machine, she tried to swipe the card repeatedly. Ultimately, the cashier had to show the woman how to insert her card into the chip slot and help her through the prompts.

I saw all this happen, and foolishly, I thought the cashier was being patient and kind.

Turns out not so much.

Hearing the cashier insult the elderly customer, the bagger replied, “You’re so mean!” But not in a serious or scolding way, but in a smiling, flirty way. She giggled as she said it.

“I’m not mean,” the cashier protested. “She was a real idiot.” He went on, explaining how “stupid” she was through each step of the payment process.

The cashier giggled some more.

I stood there. listening to this, and my first thought was how unprofessional this behavior was. As a former manager of a restaurant for years, I can’t stand when employees act like this in front of customers. The manager inside me seethed. These two were speaking as if I wasn’t even there. Had I been their manager, I would’ve been so angry.

But I said nothing. I wasn’t their manager.

Then something inside me shifted. I thought, “Wait. This cashier sucks. And so does this bagger. They’re just terrible people.”

Still, I said nothing. Given another moment or two, I might’ve finally spoken up, but before I could even make that decision, a third thought struck me.

“This kid thinks he’s funny. He’s trying to make this bagger laugh. And she is. She’s laughing. They think this is funny.”

That was it.

The former manager in me had remained silent.

The decent human being in me hadn’t said a word.

But the person who strives to be funny on both the page and on the stage couldn’t stand it anymore. I was so offended by this rotten, lazy, legitimately unfunny attempt to be funny that I finally spoke up.

“You know,” I said. “It’s pretty terrible to talk about people behind their back like you’re doing. It’s awful, really.”

“No,” the cashier said and attempted to launch into an excuse.

I cut him right off. “No,” I sad. “It’s terrible. And cowardly. And you think you’re funny. You’re not. You’re not even close to being funny. You’re just being terrible to someone who doesn’t deserve it and isn’t here. You’re not funny at all.”

The cashier broke eye contact and became exceptionally focused on scanning my remaining items. I turned to the bagger, and she was now looking down, treating the bagging of my groceries like the defusing of a ticking time bomb.

Anything to avoid eye contact.

They may have thought I was a crazy person. Or maybe they were worried that I would report their behavior to their manager. Or maybe they just wanted to get rid of me as quickly as possible without creating any more of a scene.

Maybe all three.

But in less than a minute, I was rolling away with my groceries.

I thought for a moment about stopping at the customer service counter on the way out to ask some inane question just to put the fear of reporting and termination in their minds, but honestly, I wasn’t feeling as good about myself as I usually do in situations like these.

I’m oftentimes elated after one of those encounters.

Maybe I would’ve spoken up when I shifted from manager-mode to decent-person mode, but I’m not sure. I certainly didn’t speak up immediately. It wasn’t until I became angry with them on behalf of comedy that I finally spoke up, and for that, I was feeling a little lousy about my reaction.

That elderly woman deserved to have someone stand up for her for better reasons than comedy.

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