Purchasing groceries under a quarantine is a huge stressor, at least in North Jersey.
I’d taken to ordering the food via pick-up to try to avoid having to go into the store, but because so many of the online order apps are sold out, you have to get lucky to find anything available within one or two weeks of the date you place an order.
In fact, with ShopRite, the best chance you have to place your order is to wait until midnight when they add a new day of pick-up time slots, and try to select yours before someone else gets to it. It took me browsing over twenty stores before I found one that had an available time, a few towns over from where I live.
Yesterday, the day finally came to go pick up the groceries, and I pulled in at 6:30pm and was directed to wait in the underground parking area where I was told to text a number that I’d arrived. I waited two hours until they told me that the store would need to close for curfew and that they hoped my order would be ready at 11:00am the next day.
So, when 11:00am passed today and I didn’t hear from ShopRite, I grew concerned. By 4:30pm, I decided to drive over anyway.
I want to pause here and say that in every interaction I’d had with the employees at the store, I’d tried to go out of my way to be more nice than I usually am with, well, anybody. It isn’t their fault we’re living through a pandemic, or that they’re short-staffed because workers are out sick. More than that, they’re putting their lives on the line, and people are already treating them like dirt, so I was determined to make sure they would only hear understanding from me.
At the same time, waiting another day for my groceries was also a little ridiculous, so when I pulled in and got into a line of about six or seven cars, I was a little frustrated when about thirty minutes passed with no clear indication I’d get my groceries today either, so I decided to call and see what was going on.
They knew exactly which order was mine, by name, and wanted to make sure I got it immediately since they’d had to ask me to wait until the next day. My order was already completed; they just hadn’t had time to call me and tell me at 11:00am.
Great! Perfect. But, there was a conundrum. Did they want me to skip everyone in line? We had this awkward chat on the phone about how best to go about that, knowing people might get upset if I “skipped line,” but the staffer just said they’d have to deal with it. None of the other customers had been waiting since yesterday.
As they started loading my car with the groceries, a larger, Italian man in his early sixties or so got out of his “soccer mom” van with the Jesus fish tramp stamp on the bumper and demanded to speak with management.
He starts getting in the manager’s face yelling at her–both of them wearing masks, thank God. She was trying to diffuse the situation, but he was a ticking time bomb.
Oh, hell no. You got a beef with someone during a pandemic, you are not going to take it out on these hard-working employees, jackass. You’re going to take it up with me.
So, I yelled out, “Hey, Buddy. Buddy!” I repeated the moniker “buddy” several times.
I tried explaining over his yelling at the employee that I had waited two hours yesterday and I wasn’t “skipping” line but was only just now able to get something I’d been promised hours before.
He kept ignoring me and yelling at everyone around him, so I asked him why he had to be a jerk. At that point, another guy gets out of his car and started trying to tell everyone to calm down. But the guy just stayed angry.
“What did you call me?”
“I called you a jerk. Why you gotta treat these people like dirt? Don’t you think now is probably not the best time to let emotions get so heated?”
He asked again, as he walked closer, in that thick New Jersey accent, “Whaddjou call me?”
“A jerk. I called you a jerk, because you’re being a jerk. I could probably call you worse. You clearly are.”
Now dude’s wife is getting out of the van begging him to calm down and saying something about how they have children at home.
The guy started threatening me and I started laughing.
This is where I should say that I was a little surprised by my reaction. I am, as most who know me already are well-aware, not exactly a pillar of physical strength. A fifteen year old girl could easily take me down. And this guy, while older, probably could have as well.
But I just didn’t care. Maybe it was stupidity but there was this weird sense of empowerment in my apathy. If he wanted to take a swing, have at it. That’ll be on him. I thought (but didn’t say), “Go ahead. You’ll wish you’d already died of COVID-19 by the time I’m done with you.”
One of the workers loading up the groceries smiled and thanked me. She then said, “It’s my first day, and I’m already used to people like this.”
I thanked her for what she was doing and told her I couldn’t do it. I just can’t stomach people like that. What makes so many of these essential workers heroes, at least to me, isn’t so much that they’re risking their lives, which is heroic enough, but that they’re willing and able to put up with human garbage in the age of disgusting entitlement.
The guy’s wife dragged him back toward his car. I drove off without saying anything else. It ended without the good ass-kicking he probably deserved–the one I dunno that I could’ve given him anyway.
I’ve never seen tensions this high in the country. People’s misguided anger is, in some ways, scarier and more dangerous than this virus. Seeing these pop-up protests, which are intended to stoke fear, division, and terror, seems evident to me that the country may not be able to hold together beyond the election this year. Civil conflict is here already, but it hasn’t yet exploded, and in some ways that’s scarier, because the explosion is just building and building, and the more time it has to build, the bigger the explosion may be when it arrives.
And while I think it’s fine to try to diffuse a situation, to counsel cooler heads where there should or can be cooler heads, I also don’t think bullies get to be bullies to good people with no accountability.
And if you’re blocking ambulances from getting to the hospital, screaming at nurses or other essential workers who have to use their breaks to protect the vulnerable or needlessly screaming at grocery store employees, you’re beyond the point that anybody should waste their time trying to be nice to you or remain united and in community with you or trying to “diffuse” the situation with you.
Sometimes, a punch in the face or calling someone a jerk is what’s needed. Other times, Mother Nature throws her own punches when the idiots didn’t heed her word with all the warnings she was giving.
As much as I don’t want to see a breakdown of community, further violence or suffering, I also fully recognize that when it’s deserved it’s deserved.
And that seems to be where we’re headed.