NYC Journal — Saturday, 5/2/2020 — The Grouch
I think he must not have slept well enough, because he sure was grouchy.
He seemed OK sunbathing on one of the two feet wide gleaming white steps in between three feet wide rows of healthy wind-brushed grass. But that’s only because no one was opposing. He was not being tempted. The walkers and runners, sitters and chatters in their varying degrees of dressedness [slacks and T-shirts, running shorts and a long sleeved T-shirt, a pale old Orthodox whitebeard with the full flowing black cloak and an oval beaver hat (tucked in on all sides like an envelope — not the tall round ceremonial ones; I’m not even sure it was beaver — it was a light, golden brown, soft, I don’t know what that animal was)] gave him no resistance. And so it is that we often fool ourselves into imaging we’re spiritually/emotionally/intellectually/morally sound, when in fact what we are is sheltered from the weather.
It was a little confusing. The tall sightly and saggily begutted sandy-haired (maybe?, complexion pale, but too rough to count as pasty) guy with a bag over his shoulder and one item in his long right hand was standing directly behind one register’s lane, but way back in the aisle. And so our grouch thought, “OK, that’s his lane; I’ll take this one.” Although he also thought, “what’s going on here? Is he meaning to wait for all possible lanes in that one lane way back in the aisle?”
Then both aisles opened up almost at once, but the one he’d chosen opened up a moment earlier, and the taller paler gentleman leaned, with the can or jar or bottle or whatever it was aiming at the aisle that the man with the furrowed brow (remember: no lips or noses are seen in this zone of reduced bodily expression) had staked as his own. Confused and annoyed, the grouch stepped back and made a hesitant “this way is open” gesture with his left hand, while scrunching his eyes further forward and his brow further up, so as to communicate, “I guess! I guess that’s what you want. And I guess that’s OK.”
The other guy gave a quick wet-dog shake of his head and said, “yeah!”, still wiggling his head at the other’s rudeness as he sailed by into the first open aisle, which had always been his.
And then it turns out that the cloth bag on the tall guy’s round shoulder had always been full of groceries, and now they would one by one go onto the black conveyor belt.
So then there’s a young woman there in the line that the tall man left behind. Short and round in her gray sweats. Dark hair long and perhaps pony tailed. With many items for purchase. “I was waiting over there” the grouch, brow still furrowed in annoyance and eyes still large in mystification, says to her.
“Yeah, but the line’s here”, she replies. “Whatever dudes!” he says with a petulant flip-up of his left hand, the same hand still smarting from ceding place to the tall ungainly person (I guess that’s why he pluralized “dude”? Not clear). So he goes and stands behind her, strongly suspecting, though not being sure and certainly having no proof, that he’d been waiting at least half a minute longer than her.
In the next moment she was sliding up to the next open register in the store (the one directly in front of them as they stood in what had turned out to be the unlabeled but somehow sanctified “official line for all registers”). “Ola mi amor!” and she begins prattling in Spanish to the indulgently semi-smiling clerk.
The grumpy short man twitched his hidden nose as he thought, “She’s playing it up! Getting all chummy with their shared native-level Spanish, well aware that in all likelihood I should’ve had that spot with that clerk, y quieres encontrar si no puedo hablar espanol??”, which final taunt he had to admit was maybe not exactly what he meant to say, and it if was, it was probably not the best way to say it. “And do you want to discover if I don’t speak Spanish”?? What??
Oh but The Grump’s grumping began earlier, didn’t it?
Because hadn’t this Saturday morning his boss shoved five minutes worth of his own (the boss’s) work on him!; or at least, shouldn’t the chain of command have gone from Subordinate to Boss to Grump, rather than from Subordinate to Boss to Boss telling Subordinate to tell The Grump, and so therefore, contrary to established usage, from Subordinate to Grump? And had not that irregular chain of command necessitated that he, who was not about to be found to one side of regulation, call up his Boss and, with a terse and pointed tongue, request permission to execute the obvious and standard response to the subordinate’s problem?
Yes! That all happened, but No!, that’s not the issue! The trouble is not the loss of five minutes, or Boss’s (REPEATED!) failure to follow the correct protocol; the trouble is that he then wasted thirty minutes complaining to the fresh light-filled spring air about the incident.
And that was long before the grocery line; it happened on the walk to the museum where he was going to sunbathe on the wide steps amphitheatering around the front of the englassed lobby entrance area.
The man originally occupying the register that our difficult hero had thought he could be next in line for did not wear a mask. He was a tall, medium-build, muscular young black man with hair flying off at all angles. The hair was dreaded? It was not clear to the observer, though he did notice black sweats or tracks, low riding, revealing underwear, perhaps lime green or aqua or a related shade; and a white close-fitting T-shirt but of a heavy quality, like a polo or adidas or some kind of fancy athletic-wear. Perhaps 30, with a long face and heavy square jaw, thanking the clerk with a quiet smile while tipping three dollar bills into the plastic delicounter container.
“He’s not wearing a mask! Is that allowed? No, that’s not allowed. It is a violation of state law. Why isn’t he wearing a mask? How did he get away with it? Is that a tip or a bribe? Is he cooler than me because he’s calmly defying the law? How to play this? Should I silently stew and disapprove of him and thus risk being even less cool? Or should I silently admire his bravado, and thus risk indulging in irresponsible (albeit secret and private) showmanship? Ripping my mask off and shouting out about how now I’m just as cool if not cooler is out of the question. It would take too long to explain the background considerations to the dozen or so people in this storefront area, many of whom are probably not even aware there’s a young maskless man in our presence. ‘Who was that maskless man?’, but that by way of a side-joke.
What is it he says to her? Does he apologize and say the dog ate his mask? Or does he chit chat as if there’s no pandemic and no signs on all public buildings, including this one, about the mandatory wearing of masks? And how does she hand him his full bag of groceries? Is it pushed forward a little quick and annoyed?”
The man was grouchy and snarly and a little embarrassing for humanity. I don’t think he got enough sleep last night. He calls to mind an anecdote a young father once told him about his 4 year old son Octavius (or whatever the kid’s name was) and his pal , also 4 years old.
The pal’s parents were always holding up Octavius as a model of behavior; if only their son could comport himself as well! But you see, said the father, his son was in bed and sleeping before 8PM every night, whereas his son’s pal stayed up way too late every night watching TV; and, indeed, on those occasions when the young Octavius awoke inadequately rested, he too was cross, irascible, unmanageable. “We’ve tried to tell them, but …”
4 year olds, 40 year olds, everyone but the most dedicated of mystics (who live on prayer, water, and a thousand calories a day high in their quiet mountain abbeys) need sleep.
What about the fair haired pale kid of about the same height and medium-low build as our slightly more Mediterranean protagonist? The one with the giant bandana hanging down to his chest. He asked where the line was and The Grouch said it was behind him and that he himself had once stood where he (the Great Bandana) was presently doing and had ended up losing a spot over it. [This was, by the way, not the first time he’d mentioned the tragedy. He had also said (before the era of Bandana) to the air and perhaps loud enough to win the backward glance of the gray-sweats woman unloading groceries in what could’ve been his spot, “I was probably in line before her. Well, there it is.”] Bandana, apparently well-rested, eyes smiling, chipperly replied: “well, the main thing is we know you’re next.”
But was the two of them knowing that Grouch was next in line for all registers really enough to maintain order and stability? Grouch didn’t want to know what would happen when Bandana and the person who’d lined up behind the Grouch had to navigate the next open register; and so he was careful to not look back after (finally!) taking possession of a register (it was like a five minute wait, actually).
Did the sour, spiritually-damaging if not outright damning mood of the story’s hero in any way color the telling of the story? For example, did the tall guy actually have a gut? And aren’t there more flattering ways to just as accurately describe his complexion? But what was this tall antagonist wearing? Tan slacks and a short sleeve button-up plaid shirt? I don’t think so. I don’t think we know what he was wearing. And did his head really keep wobbling as he passed Grouch? The only clear image left to us is the right hand tilted up (but still holding a big juice or something like that) as part of a chest-out, head cocked back and right shrug of “WTF???” towards The Grouch on the left. There might or might not have also been an accompanying sound, something like the “yeah!” we originally recorded.
You know what? Let’s just say this: None of this really happened. No real human souls were damaged by the spreading of one soul’s unrested peevishness. It’s just a story about the sort of thing that could very well have happened in Brooklyn today, if somebody got out of the wrong side of the bed and kept right on going out the door and into the world, contaminating it with not the covid-19 virus (which the Grump’s already put in his five weeks of lying around with soggy lungs for) but with something arguably worse: anger and discontent.
Author: Roger Peevishpunk Dodger, with a few careful suggestions from Johnny Onduh Spott
Copyright: AM Watson