Mein Kampf At The Co-Op
So there I am, minding my own business, at the Park Slope Food Co-op, where I’ve been a member for close to 25 years. The Co-op is the largest and most successful food co-op in the country. And it — or should I say we — have many rules, leaving us open to lampooning by the press and the blogosphere. We have a reputation as “Food Nazis”.
Perhaps I am one myself.
As I was saying, there I am, minding my own business, standing on the checkout line last Thursday night, the day before the big snowstorm, so the place is packed with semi-hysterical shoppers like myself. (People in Buffalo laugh their heads off at us every winter.) I shop in 12 minutes, but the checkout line is a good 20 minutes long, and winds its way almost completely around the store.
Right in front of me are a man and woman. The woman turns to me and says, “If the line moves, just touch his back and he’ll move. He’s blind.” And then she goes off to shop.
Now shopping while waiting in line may be standard operating procedure at any normal supermarket, although I think it’s quite rude, actually. But with over 15,000 members, we have rules that set a high bar of civility and “cooperation”, and this means you don’t park your cart on the line and go shop. But that’s what these two people were doing.
And I’m thinking — oh right, he’s blind. How could I get annoyed at him?
Then I think…yes, he’s blind. So….?!
This reminded me of how a former client of mine once handled a similar situation.
He and his partner are waiting to be seated at a popular Chelsea restaurant one summer evening. They are the next to be called, when, right in front of them on the sidewalk, a table opens up. Two people, one pushing the other in a wheelchair, approaches the maitre d’ and ask to be seated. “My friend needs to eat,” the man says of his friend in the chair.
How would you have handled this?
My client would have none of it.
“Wait a minute! Why should they be going ahead of us?”
The standing man looks at him, his jaw dropping. “Are you serious?”
“Yes! We need to eat as well, and we’ve been standing for 25 minutes.”
My client insists they get the table, and they do. Later the standing man, after consulting his friend in the chair, apologizes.
BTW, my client’s now an ex-client; he clearly doesn’t need therapy anymore.
So anyway, back at the co-op…
“Excuse me, I hate to say this, but there’s a rule about shopping while on line…”
“Oh, it’s ok,” the woman says with a smile. “He’s legally blind, and he forgot his shopping list, so as he remembers it, I go get what he needs, ’cause he can’t.”
I’m thinking, Am I crazy? She’s handing me what at first blanch sounds like a reasonable appeal to my humanity, but the needle on my inner bullshitometer reads “Crock!”
“So I have an Inguinal Hernia and it hurts to stand.” (On Monday I had it repaired. Now it REALLY hurts to stand!) “Should I be allowed to get in front of you?” Actually I just said this in my head. But I do say something like, I don’t believe I understand.
They both turn and look at me like I am, well, wearing a brown shirt and goose-stepping my way up the aisle.
The Shopping Squad Leader (who’s the one in charge during such times) comes over, and I explain the situation to him.
He has better things to do, with hundreds of members trying to shop and get out of there. He rules in their favor.
The blind man then mumbles something to his friend while she’s trying to calm him down.
“Hey, I understand, baby, because as you know I work all day with special needs people.“ She’s speaking loud enough so that I can hear.
“And some people just aren’t sensitive to their needs.”
Wasn’t there an episode of South Park about this? Where Timmy (“TimmEE”), who’s disabled many times over, just wants in the end to be treated like everyone else.
I spend a few obligatory seconds wrestling with the voice of my internal mother, admonishing me to always be the Nice Jewish Boy, which in English is commonly spelled v-i-c-t-i-m. But I don’t stay there long, and instead feel some healthy anger.
Then I do the only thing I can at that point, which is to let it go. But what I would have liked to say to them, or him, was…
I can respect your needs and have compassion for you if you’re disabled, but it’s not like you needed help and didn’t have any. Is it empowering to give you special treatment? I don’t think so. Aren’t you really taking advantage of our good hearts?
Yes, I believe I still have a good heart; it’s just not as soft as it used to be. And neither is my head.