“LORD, grant me patience, and I need it right now” the old joke goes. It is only humorous because of the sad truth in it. Let’s face it, the patience in our culture is sadly lacking. We have become a people who can do almost anything instantaneously. Any activity that normally takes drudge time, like washing dishes, has inspired the invention of a machine to take care of it. That leaves us more time to microwave a meal, start the coffee maker, or catch the latest news from our friends on Facebook. Wanna buy a car? No need to save for years, just get an insta-loan. No time to cook? Thats ok, plenty of fast food places, you don’t even have to walk in, just breeze past the drive through and be on your way. Maybe you do feel like cooking? Great! The modern mega-store is positively stuffed with every kind of super quick meals that imitate real food. If one entered our arena-sized grocery stores and inventoried the food that our ancestors recognized (like flour, salt, sugar, potatoes, meat, coffee, tea, lard, etc) the selection would almost fit in the mom & pop store of yesteryear.
No, unlike some starry-eyed romantics, I’m not going to advocate going back to the “good ol’ days”. Nobody want’s to do laundry on a scrub board (I’ve done it). There is, however, a question that needs to be asked in our land of infinite convenience. Why, oh why, are we so damned impatient with one another? Why doesn’t our inner voice talk to us like this? ” Oh? You want to cut into my lane cause yours is blocked? Thats ok, my dishwasher is doing my dishes and I have supper in a bag on the seat beside me. I have plenty of time to let one or two cars in ahead of me, it will give me at least 5 more seconds to listen to this entertaining program on my satellite radio!” Or how about, “Look at that bank lineup! There must be at least 6 people ahead of me! But this is not a problem, my laundry is getting washed in a machine at home, and when I do get to the counter the staff can move my finances anywhere instantly. I can pay all my bills without addressing an envelope or licking a stamp! Besides, this is an excellent time to check my emails on my smart phone.” Unfortunately, sadly, this is not the case; the complete opposite is true. As a society we are at best just plain nasty to one another. At worst, people have become literally murderous because someone got “ahead” of them. In an ironic twist of quirkiness, it is the speedy automobile that has inspired killing rages, not the pedestrian craving to “be in front” inspiring “sidewalk rage”. The question of why we aren’t more patient, being the society blessed with the most conveniences, deserves a little pondering.
Now lest anyone think I am some calm guru, sitting on a sunny mountain top, knitting doilies out of my excess inner peace; I will tell you what burns my biscuits. Its those same mega-stores I was mentioning earlier. Those nightmare- sized stores make my patience disappear like ice cubes in August.
It starts out with the list my sweet wife has given me to fill. I mean there is nothing wrong with the list, its short, detailed and neatly written. In fact it’s EXTREMELY detailed, like “2nd generation super zip floor cleaner, lemon scented (get the one with real lemon added) blue cap not purple (purple is super zip LITE) 12oz not 14oz, get the one on sale (there should be a tear-off coupon on the shelf). Doing ok still patience-wise, I whistle as I navigate the B-52 hanger sized building and wonder if they have GPS coordinates to the soap isle. I have a vague idea of where I stumbled onto that particular aisle last shopping trip and I tell myself walking is healthy. I don’t even have a cross feeling toward the people who run into me or stop in the middle of the lane with their cart sideways cause they found just what they wanted in mid-turn; morons.
I’m ok though, still fine, its just a little shopping trip, nothing a little mind over matter won’t cure. I finally find the soap isle after navigating half the store; twice. I’m sure it wasn’t on this side last week – must take a lot of work to shuffle a thousand tons of merchandise twice a week. I look down the isle as it disappears to a point in the horizon, and muse to myself if there was a deer at the far end I don’t think I’d try a shot, and its ALL soaps and cleaners. I look again at my detailed list and feel like Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail amongst the deadly fakes. For a short time frustration leaves me as I am in awe of the shear number of different cleaners. There are not just different brands but a variety of specialities, sizes, sales, consistencies, scents, colours, containers and dispensers. Soon though, frustration returns, as my feet are getting tired, time is slipping away and I’m still pushing an empty cart. The once awe-inspiring mega selection is now starting to enrage me as I cannot even catch a fleeting glimpse of anything like Super Zip (blue cap or PURPLE), 2nd generation or otherwise. “Is civilization really better off having so many choices in the war against grime!?” my inner voice snarls, “do we really need fruit bowl detergent in three scents, four delivery systems, nine different sizes, liquid, powder and freaking gel?!! Why is this necessary?” No sign of anything even remotely zippy so I quickly grab a floor cleaner with a purple cap (I was sure the list said purple) and plod on to the next item on my list, some kind of rare himalayan spice in a shaker, not a can, and not brand x.
The rest of the shopping-experience-from-hell became a blur and energy drained rapidly, even my inner voice has become exhausted and the only noise it makes is a quiet sob. In a moment of mental weakness I flirted with the fantasy of finding a stock boy to get directions, my cynical mind-voice roused itself to moan out, “You’re serious? There are no stock boys! The shelves are stocked at midnight by sadistic orcs. The orcs trade their labour for the opportunity to shuffle the entire store layout every second night and video tape the suffering customers during the day!” Eventually I start toward the front of the store to find the checkouts, the contents of my cart somewhat resembling the items on the list. Even with the sight of long lines I can feel a faint wisp of a restored humour as my task is nearly accomplished. This faint inkling of humour allows me to view the fact that there are 27 cash registers and only six tellers with some (slightly bitter) mental detachment. Not only that, but my mind is waking up to the fact that it’s time to play “the game”.
The game. I’ve been playing this game for years, and I usually lose. I lose a lot, but somehow the the game itself gives me the allusion that I have a crumb of control in the psy-op of consumerism that is grocery shopping. The game is called “pick the fastest line” and there are enough variables to give a compulsive gambler the chills. One must study the tellers, lined up customers and their cart contents, and of course, length of each line. The line length is obvious, but how high the carts are heaped change the parameters. The tellers are studied for age, experience and level of exhaustion as well as general attitude. Each line is evaluated for customers and cart contents. Mothers with small children are to be avoided, not that I don’t like mothers and children but their carts are usually full and the mothers distracted. I’ve sometimes thought about offering to mind the mother’s children while she does the groceries but a criminal record would interfere with my life too much (note to fathers of young children: if you spend your checkout time staring at the magazine celebs while your wife runs the groceries through, don’t ask her why she’s grumpy when you get out to the car, trust me.) Carts piled with fresh fruits, vegetables and bulk bin bags are also slow. Kudos on eating right but all that reading of tags and weighing takes time. Seniors; some are all efficiency and some are slower, so it evens out over time. Fast is fast, that is, fast food not only cooks fast, but those frozen pizza boxes, plastic cheezits bags and over-sized coke bottles simply wiz over the scanner.
Some of you are thinking: why doesn’t he go through the self checkout and eliminate the teller variable…..not a chance. I tried those electronic conveniences -from-hell once, and got into a furious argument with the infernal device over whether or not my recently scanned roll of tinfoil was in the bag or not. Apparently, my heated discussion with the overblown son-of-a pong game caused a disturbance. About the time I got to the part where I was telling the lying sack of microcircuits how I was going out to my truck for my tools and just prove who was man and who was machine, a snip of a girl in a store uniform came over and took the machine’s side! I know exactly the type of techno-loving quisling she is. When the computers and machines finally take over she’ll be the one in a uniform checking your name off as you’re herded to the protein slurry grinder for final elimination. I keep my distance from such folk.
I took in all the line variables, gave my sub-conscience time to process, and made my line choice. There were four ahead of me in line and three more carts quickly pulled in behind me. I was starting to relax being happy with my line decision and the people in it. The man at the front of the line was almost through. The next couple had a half-full cart of fast food, and the older woman directly ahead of me had a mixed cart, but a determined and efficient look. I noted the teller was college-age, but seemed to work with a speed that said a laser scanner was no stranger to her. I would be free soon! The couple had reached the belt and started piling the boxes and packages while my chosen super-efficiency teller expertly made change with the man in front. I noted that as the couples groceries rolled to my teller she gave them a perky greeting while simultaneously flicking vacuum pacs of lunch meat across the scanner like a vegas expert dealing cards. I almost started to hum a happy tune as I began to casually glance at the pictures of the pretty idiots on the magazine covers. Suddenly, to my horror, I noticed the lady in front of me open her purse and pull out an obscene sized wad of coupons circled with a fat rubber band. A coupon lady, I might have known, but I didn’t lose hope as the woman’s efficiency in shuffling through the stack spoke of orderliness and speed. The line progress halted briefly as the fast food couple paid their bill and his bank card didn’t swipe the first time, second try was successful and I breathed again. The woman in front of me started putting her items on the belt and placed coupons on top of the products that matched. It all seemed orderly until my super-teller picked up the first coupon, then everything stopped dead.
“What are these?” said the perky teller to the coupon lady, turning the coupon around and around like she hadn’t seen one before, “It says sixty percent off, that can’t be right.”
“They’re manufacturers coupons dearie,” said coupon lady, “I use them all the time.”
“I don’t think we can accept these,” said perky teller and the coupon ladies eyes narrowed dangerously.
“They are acceptable anywhere the product is sold young lady, just read the back.” As the cashier girl begins to read the back of the coupon (having to hold it an inch from her nose to read the fine print) the last of my happy thoughts are blown away by the resurgence of my inner cynic. “I can hear it now!” it rasps hoarsely, “in about 5 seconds she will get on the intercom and ask for a lawyer on cashier number 4. We’ll spend the next 19 minutes watching a legal debate between coupon lady and perky girl.” Actually it was worse.
“Brenda, hey Brenda!” hollers perky to an older cashier two lines over. “What do I do to enter these?” she’s holding up the offending piece of coloured paper, and I get some satisfaction seeing Brenda’s line stop dead. Brenda now comes over to look, earning dirty looks from her customers in line. Maybe others do play “the game”, I thought.
“You’ll have to ask Sandy” concludes Brenda after studying the fine print like it held life’s secrets, “but she’s on break.”
“Oh just great!” my inner voice moans, “lets all go join Sandy in the break room and watch her finish her hot chocolate. Since “Sandy the magnificent” is the only magician that can unlock the secret of the coupon we can’t be in a hurry or anything!” Another line stops dead when the pair are joined by another teller and a coupon conference ensues. I am forced for my own sanity to study the chewing gum selection and ignore everything. Just as I am beginning to mentally measure my cart, wondering if I could use the toilet paper pack as a pillow and curl up amongst my groceries to nap, the group think-session ends and the coupon is entered into the system. I should feel grateful it only takes typing six lines of code for each coupon. I look at the other moving lines and am too weary to care that I’ve lost “the game”, again.
I have somehow picked the slowest line. Glaciers and snails could pass this line and live a full life and I will be stuck here in grocery purgatory. I am past the point of feeling sorry for myself and into the land of humour now, the comfortable numbness of bemusement beginning to creep in. When you’ve reached the end of the rope, and started practicing your knot tying, you can at least tell yourself it can’t get worse. When it does, the audible snap of a rope breaking above you may as well be the severing of the link to sanity.
Coupon lady has got all her groceries through the scanner and the cashier has given her a total and my toes are curling up in my boots as coupon lady pulls an official looking cheque out. My inner cynic/psycho begins laughing hysterically, a madman’s version of bemusement, as perky shakes her head and I hear coupon lady ask for a manager. “A MANAGER?!!” roars the inner voice. “There are no managers in these places, the manager is just a rumor started to keep these gals working and the stock-orcs in line, any form of a manager would have to be flown in from the east coast. Just look at that cheque, I’m sure its in German. It is probably drawn from a seedy cash store in Brussels. Why, why, why does this ALWAYS happen?” At this point my choices are limited, I could flip out and trash the gum rack, unleash the inner voice on a fellow human being, curl up on the floor and sob uncontrollably, or, find some patience.
You can probably now tell from my slightly exaggerated tale that I am no saint. I am far from it. I have no secret of tranquillity that works all the time, its why I live in the country instead of the city. What I want to explore is the idea of “finding” patience within, how does one do that? What is the process and where is it “found”? You’re probably thinking that I am short-tempered in the city because I think I am better than the other people, that I live in the bush because I imagine myself somehow superior to the general public. You may think if I held my fellow man in greater regard and got off my high horse that the patience would just be there, but that is not the case.
My next post I will tell another story where I had to “find” patience, and I was very much alone at the time and many, many, many, miles from anything resembling a city. So I throw the question out to y’all: “What is the place that one reaches down to to find that thing called patience?”