Graceless Under Pressure

Hemingway defined class as grace under pressure. Well, from what I’ve seen lately, as our nation and the whole world is under pressure, most of our “service workers” have a lot more class than some of the people they serve.

At least four U.S. grocery workers have died of Covid-19, according to The Washington Post. More will surely die. (Update : The Washington Post reported on Monday, April 13, that 41 U.S. grocery workers have died of the virus and “thousands more” have tested positive for it.) One store I frequent in Denver refuses to take cash anymore — a wise move, as most paper money is filthy, on a microscopic level.

Here’s what else I saw this week.

It started at the Kroger, where I was checking myself out at one of those cool machines that scan you in and total up the bill. A service worker — may I call her a grocer? — approached the assistant manager up front and told him, “I really need a break. They’ve been yelling at me all day about toilet paper.”

“Sure,” he said.

At that very moment, all hell broke loose in a traditional check-out line behind us.

Some lady — must I call her a lady? — was giving hell to a check-out clerk. Shouting at her. The woman had a shopping cart full of toilet paper. The grocer politely explained that store policy that day was one pack of toilet paper to a customer.

The obnoxious customer thrust a six-pack of toilet paper into the shopping cart of the woman behind her. “Buy this for me!” she said, to an alarmed stranger. “I’ll pay cash.”

The polite grocer told the impolite customer, “I’m sorry, ma’am, the store policy today is one package per customer.”

The — how should I say this? — wretched wench demanded to speak to the manager. The polite grocer pointed her the way.

By now the assistant manager, right next to my check-out machine, was on the house phone to the manager telling what was happening as the — how shall I say this? — Weird Sister tromped her way toward the front office.

When the assistant manager hung up I told him, “Cheezus. You poor people.”

He shrugged. We see each other every other day. We’re pals.

But that’s not all.

I dumped my groceries on the front seat and walked 100 yards to the liquor store at the far end of the parking lot to buy a six-pack of beer. It’s cheaper at the Kroger, but the liquor store is a local, independent business, and I can afford the extra buck.

My buddy Neto behind the counter was consoling his wife. She’s about 5 foot 2, maybe 120 pounds. Some guy had just grabbed a bottle of booze from behind the counter and tried to boot it. She grabbed him and he and dragged her out the door. She wrestled it away from him and he took off running.

Neto had just come back from depositing cash at the bank. I asked what was happening, and they spilled the lurid tale.

“He’s lucky I wasn’t here,” Neto said, “I’d have fucked him up.”

He reached under the counter and showed me the sawed-off Louisville Slugger he’d brought in the day before, after some other sleaze had done the same thing to his wife and got away with it.

What is wrong with us, my fellow Americans? It ain’t just a virus. Are we the world’s spoiled brats?

We are the richest country in the history of the world. Is it an unbearable burden for us to buy just one six-pack of toilet paper a day at the Kroger? When we could drive three blocks to the Safeway and buy six more? As if we needed 12, right now, today?

Should we drag our next-door shopping-cart strangers into a War Against Grocers because we’re too lazy and stupid to drive those three blocks? Too selfish to realize we can do that?

Look: We’re all under pressure today. When my garbagemen came Wednesday, I went out and thanked them for doing their jobs, all of us with masks on — talk about a dangerous job — picking up our garbage. On Tuesday I made a point of thanking my mailman — a refugee from the Middle East.

I’m not better than anyone else for doing this. I do it to help myself. Because as the entire world suffers fear and isolation, one remedy for it — which the highest federal officials in the United States do not seem to understand — is to think about someone other than your own damn self.

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