When you spend most of your days with your nose buried in your laptop, you don’t see a lot of high drama. But today was an exception.
I was sitting in the Borders cafe, which was pretty crowded. A group of medical students had taken the table next to the wall, the one with easy outlet access. Another woman had taken the table next to theirs, and since she had no plug of her own, she had stretched her laptop cord across the aisle to their outlet.
Eventually a bookstore employee arrived. She tried to bring humor to the situation. “Uh oh, the cord police are here,” she said. “We can’t have cords stretched across the aisles.” Then she asked the two parties to switch places.
You would have thought she asked them to strip naked, such was the stink they caused. The woman with the laptop immediately started yelling. The medical students joined in the ruckus. The laptop lady began to mimic the bookseller’s request in a high-pitched, silly voice.
The bookseller tried to keep her cool, but a little irritation was starting to creep into her voice. I could scarcely blame her.
Finally, the patrons agreed to change places. And in the inevitable shuffling of bags, it was revealed that one of the medical students had brought in a bag of McDonald’s takeout to eat while studying.
“You can’t have food from other places,” the bookseller told him. Whereupon he insisted that he’d done so several times before and never had a problem. Dude, seriously? I mean, if you sneak in a little baggie of nuts I’m not going to judge you. But McDonald’s? For real?
At last, the switching of places was done. The Micky D’s was banished to the medical student’s backpack. The bookseller left. And the woman with the laptop continued to loudly grouse about her, calling her, among other things, a “fuckin’ bitch.”
I don’t get it.
Senseless rudeness always get me down. Inattentive rudeness, everyone’s guilty of that from time to time. Rudeness through misunderstanding, that happens too. But plain ol’ I’m-pissed-so-I’m-going-to-make-you-feel-bad rudeness? Blows my mind.
Besides that, your relationship with an establishment you frequent is just that, a relationship. It involves give and take. The baristas and booksellers owe me decent service; I owe them the occasional purchase. And we both owe each other basic good manners and civility.
And there is one thing that guides my behavior when push comes to shove, when cord issues or cleanliness or noise threatens to create a conflict: It is more their place than mine.
I don’t go into your home and object to the standards you’ve set for it, and I don’t do it in your place of business either. If there’s a rule I can’t live with, I am free to go elsewhere. I’m certainly not going to pitch a fit because I can’t have things my way.
I wish I could make the people in the cafe understand that way of thinking, but I can’t. All I can do is what I did: track down the bookseller in the back of the store and tell her that I’ve always appreciated her pleasantness and that I was sorry she was treated that way. Which leaves me feeling a little good, a little ineffectual. Maybe Miss Manners could have done a better job.