December 25, 2003

fake cheer

Last night at eleven p.m. I found myself at the local Rite Aid (huge chain pharmacy, bright flourescents and miles of cough medicine). I waited in line at the cash register, barely holding onto the slippery rolls of wrapping paper and the heavy bottles of apple juice, until I got to the front. The cashier smiled at me cheerily. "How are you doing?"

I told her the truth. "I've been better."

"Sorry to hear that," she chirped, and rang me up without another word.

I stood there, feeling positively muddy with angst. A spouse at home with fever and chills, the fifth time in ten days someone's been sick in my house. A child (finally asleep) who'd seen some of his unwrapped presents earlier in the day because I was too lame a mom to either wrap them quickly enough or hide them well enough, a devastated child because I was then a terrible enough mom to yell at him to get out of the room. And my mother who lives too far away was leaving the next day after what felt like a telescoped short visit. Other things roiled in there too, uppermost of all, evil raging PMS.

I didn't care that the cashier didn't respond with any genuine empathy to my non-standard response. Big deal. What did bother me was what happened after I paid. She put on a pre-programmed happy voice and said, "Have a great holiday!" And then waited. Staring at me. I was apparently expected to smile back and wish her the same. If I didn't, I was a bitch.

Well, guess what. I was a bitch.

It's not that I think it's okay to be rude to cashiers. The opposite, in fact. And for cashiers working late on Christmas Eve, yeah, especially them. She was probably not in the best mood herself. But come on. Be human. Allow me my feelings. I wasn't hurting her. I was being perfectly polite. Just not faking it. And that, apparently, was my failing. Because the world revolves around her and I only existed to pass that ridiculous test of false bonhomie. Even though I'd been very clear (though not in-your-face) about my own state of mind.

Things got better after I got home, thankfully. The people that matter do care how I feel and don't demand fake smiles. But I'm still appalled by that woman and the way she looked at me. Waiting.

Posted by Tamar at December 25, 2003 10:55 PM