Sunday, October 22, 2006

What, Me Sorry?

There is a recent trend in public intercourse that I find very disturbing on many levels. Not the least of these is the fact that my being bothered by it may be a sign of impending old fogeyhood, which I would abhor. Truly, though, I don’t think so. If this had occurred during my youth, I would have found it just as disturbing and just as much a source of consternation.

OK, Voice, so what are you talking about here? Well, I am not sure what to call the phenomenon, but here is tonight’s example. I was replacing some membership brochures in the holders of the local dog park tonight, when I watched a woman leave the park and leave both the inner and outer gates of the main airlock gate standing wide open behind her and walk to her truck. I had seen it happen before with total disbelief, but this was one time too many, and I could feel my dander rise.

I quickened my pace to catch her before she left, but I need not have worried. She was standing rooting around in the front seat of her truck.

“Excuse me.” She turned and looked at me.

“Excuse me, but you left both of these gates standing open. This is an off-leash park; dogs are loose. They could have gotten out.” And here it is, the phenomenon. She looked at me, said nothing, turned her back, and began to root again in the front seat of her truck.

Other times when this has occurred, I have simply shaken my head and walked off, but tonight it was just one time too many. I could feel the old BP begin to climb. I closed the gates she had left open (fortunately, no dogs except mine, who was on a leash, were in the immediate vicinity). I walked up to her.

“You left the gates open. When I told you, you looked at me as if I hadn’t spoken and said nothing. You didn’t even apologize. Dogs could have escaped. A dog could have been run over.”

“OK, I’m sorry,” truculently. “My boyfriend is watching my dog,” defiantly.

“Right, and none of the other dogs matter? Is that it?” Me, sarcastically. I turned and walked away. It was pointless.

My husband has suggested that we should post signs that say “Please close both gates behind you.” Most of us feel, however, that the kind of blithering idiot or hopelessly egotistical asshole that would do this would not be bothered to read that sign either.
But that’s another post.

What I find flummoxing tonight is how someone can speak to you, and you can simply not respond, simply turn your back and walk away as if nothing had happened, particularly if the speaker is taxing you with some lapse of common courtesy or common decency on your part.

Whatever happened to: What was I thinking? I’m so sorry . . . I was in a hurry and thinking about the call I had to make, but that’s no excuse . . .or the simple You’re right.

Is acknowledging that you screwed up to a stranger now some weird loss of face? Is it impossible to believe you could have done something wrong?

Yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store’s courtesy counter to attempt to boost my upcoming retirement income (translation: buy a lottery ticket). It was as busy as they usually are on Saturday afternoons. There were three people behind the counter, one on the phone, one counting some money and another running to and fro. None of the three seemed to be interacting with customers, but all seemed engaged in some task. Finally, the running to and fro one made the mistake of slowing and looking over toward me. “I need one lottery ticket, please,” I said. She held out her hand and took my money and headed toward the lottery machine. It was at that point that I saw that the man standing in front of the lottery machine talking on his cell phone had a filled-out lottery card in front of him. When he looked up hopefully as the woman approached the machine (still talking on his cell phone, though), I realized what I had done. There was no fixing it. Ms. To and Fro was already punching my ticket into the machine. But I said to the man, “I am so sorry. I think I inadvertently cut in front of you. I didn’t realize you were waiting for lottery.” He said “That’s OK,” and seemed unperturbed. As I took my ticket, I said again, “Again, I am sorry I did that.”

Could I have just pretended that I didn’t realize he was waiting for the lottery ticket and walked away saying nothing? Sure. Would I? I can’t imagine it. Not from virtue, just because it seems unimaginable to do that. (It could be the tiny Southern lady and gentleman that live inside my head and coach me when I stray from the polite straight and narrow. They were created by years of early parental indoctrination that saw me well into my twenties before I could call a supervisor by her first name without my throat closing up.)

I have to wonder in this age of increasing violence how much could be avoided if we would only say I screwed up . . . I’m so sorry . . . I never meant to cut you off . . . I didn’t see you signaling . . .instead of engaging in this kind of group defensiveness and self-righteousness.

So, if I have offended you, it was inadvertent, and I am so very sorry.

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