A Plague of Old Ladies

Recently, Mitch and I visited Salt Lake City. We had a spectacular time. Now, a spectacular time, for me, generally involves a decent-sized used bookstore and thankfully, Salt Lake City had Sam Wallers--two floors, many rooms, obscure titles in paperback. Sam Wallers is so decently-sized that I had to ditch my husband later in the day and go back for a second, more leisurely, browse. I had just finished the brand-new Harry Potter and was feeling reluctant to leave the "young adult fantasy" genre, so I picked up a copy of Christopher Paolini's Eragon (after half and hour of considering my options), and headed to the register.

There was one person in line before me--an elderly-ish woman with half-inch thick glasses, a floral print housedress of what could only be polyester, and alarmingly dyed hair (no interesting colors, just a fresh-from-the-box brown that was dark enough to make her face stand out, startlingly pale and creased). When the first words out of her mouth were, "Now, this was from the $.25 bin, correct?" I knew I was in trouble. She waved a romance novel that, from the looks of it, no one in their right mind would consider charging more than $.25 for at the cashier, in what could only be labeled a "menacing" way.

"Right," the cashier said, in a tense monotone. A muscle near his right ear began to twitch.

"And this one," the woman said, while I hopped back and forth anxiously, clutching my one book and scanning the store for a second cashier, "this one's $12?"

"Right," the cashier repeated, blinking slowly.

"Okay. Just wanted to be sure." The price tags, neon orange, were visible to me, even from behind the woman; I could only hope the cashier could read them as she waved them under his nose.

He rang the books up, and said, "That'll be $13.06."

The woman scoffed, picked up the books, shuffled them and looked at the cashier sternly. He held her gaze as she drawled, "$12 + $.25? How can that be $13? Surely the tax isn't that much!"

"$.81 tax, ma'am. Your total is $13.06." The stress he laid on these last few syllables made me take a cautious step back. I was sure I heard his teeth grinding, but the woman made no sign of noticing, only rooted around in her immense purse, murmuring, "$.81, well, really...".

Finally, she slapped the money down on the counter (exact change, of course) and marched out, romance novels in hand, while I approached the counter, half-shielding myself with the flimsy paperback Eragon. The cashier hardly noticed me, just keyed in my book and announced my total in that same deadpan voice.

When he counted back my change, he counted back the coins, down to the penny.

I would say that that--the drive to count back change to the last cent--is the sign of a cashier pushed to the absolute edge. In my cashiering career, it was only the desperately bad days that drove me to count back coins, and oddly, it was only the mad old ladies who really gave those bad days meaning--the women who shook every single box of crackers to determine which had the most crackers, who marched up to the counter at the bagel shop and made me turn each bagel over by hand so they could find the one that was closer to golden brown, rather than simply brown.

And they're everywhere--every single job I've had has been overridden by old ladies who need to check the eggs, sniff the creamer, watch you slice their meat to make sure it comes out to an even pound...

It makes me twitch, just thinking about it.

An interesting note, though, is that plenty of middle-age women display this tendency, too. Mitch commented on this at his cashiering job--what is it about rich, middle-aged women with their manageable haircuts, hybrid cars and Chacos, who feel the need to specify the exact temperature of their latte, how many slices, precisely, of tomato they want on their sandwich, and who won't hesitate to return a plate if it appears to be a little skimpy on the pasta salad?

While the mad old ladies were irritating, it was the middle-aged women who were mean. Nearly every customer who ever chewed me out over something stupid, if they weren't a drunk old man, was a middle-aged woman. I hate to stereotype, I honestly do, but I couldn't help but notice this trend, especially since it carried over to Mitch's job, and to that of several of my server/cashier/barista friends. The middle-aged women could be just viscious.

I once had a woman get so irate over the fact that her omelette was ten minutes late (I did warn her that the grill was backed up when she ordered) that, when it finally came out, she picked up her omelette, marched over to the trash can, dropped it in and left without a word. I had a woman get so angry over the fact that the bagel shop where I then worked charged to butter a bagel (it was quite a lot for butter, I admit) that she shouted at me in front of a full restaurant, slammed her fist on the counter, got her young daughter in something like a choke-hold and dragged her out of the restaurant, cursing me, everyone at the establishment, and all of our descendents to the fourth generation.

If I remember right, to butter a bagel was an extra $.81.

For I a while, I liked to believe that these ladies were probably just under a lot of stress--that their jobs or kids or whatever were getting to them, or maybe one of their parents had just fallen ill, or possibly their shiny hybrid car had just been rear-ended in the parking lot, mere seconds before, but I'm believing that less and less. There's no excuse for practicing primal scream therapy on your minimum-wage barista. Absolutely none.

I say, if you have a problem with the service or the food or the prices, talk to the manager. They get paid extra to deal with shit like that, and if they can't help you, just don't come back. Take your business elsewhere. If the server is a snotty little brat, tell her you don't appreciate her attitude and then ask to speak to the manager.

But if you have a problem with your personal stress threshold, then for God's sake, start a juice fast, see a sex therapist, take up yoga, get a 'script for Prozac and don't take it out on the minions responsible for your morning latte. That is all.


bayski said...

Preach!! Now, could you tell the middle age women how to tip? $2 is NOT good enough for all tabs.

Thea said...

Two women bring their three kids (that's three apiece) in matching GapKids outfits into the aforementioned bagel shop, order lattes, sandwiches, omelettes, etc--a tab of nearly forty dollars at a place that specializes in bagels & cream cheese, not multi-course meals--and leave a tip of $2!

I ran laps around the restaurant for you people!

(Yes, I'm bitter.)

Bayski, we've just gotta spread the word. You must be a fellow cashier. (Though I'm not currently working as a cashier, I must say, the experience brands you for life.)