Laughing at tragedy

Standing fourth in line at the grocery store, with only a pack of Bimbo fake doughnuts (49¢) in my hand, I had nowhere to be and nothing planned beyond eating the doughnuts.

When the line advanced a few inches, my mind was elsewhere, and I neglected to take an immediate step forward. A woman wedged her way ahead of me, without saying a word.

Huh. I mulled it over, deciding whether to make a scene or say nothing.

Maybe I'm lazy or maybe it seemed something too dopey to get pissed off about, but I'd decided to say nothing... until the guy in front of her asked nicely if she'd hold his spot in line while he went back for something.

"No," she said bluntly.

Those first five paragraphs happened in two seconds or less, so it wasn't too late to change my mind about the pursuit of peace at all costs. "Go ahead and get what you need, buddy," I said, and the woman looked at me as if was she was amazed I'd spoken. She must've thought I was a fat mannequin. "She cut ahead of me in line, but she's going back behind me."

"What?" she sorta shrieked, and suddenly everything about that woman was obvious, written on her face. She was of a class well above mine, so accustomed to comfort and deference that she might not have even been aware she'd stepped ahead of me in line. Highfalutin as hell. 

I said, "Would you like your groceries on the floor, or maybe on your head?" Or something like that. When I'm hot, sometimes I don't know what I'm saying. Her groceries were at her feet, so I picked up her basket, and gently plopped it behind me.

"Did you see that?" she said, shocked, to the 40-something man working the register. And it was the moment upon which my fate hinged. The woman was about his age, about my age, overdressed and not unattractive. If he'd taken her side, I would've been outta luck.

"Yeah, I saw it, lady," he said. "You cut ahead of him."

And at that, Juan's Produce became my favorite bodega in the neighborhood. He'd frozen her like a popsicle, but after a moment she very quietly said, "Sorry," and stepped behind me again. Waiting her turn. Imagine that.

I let the guy back in line with the carton of eggs he'd forgotten but fetched, then waited and paid for my junk food. On my way out I said, "You have a real nice day, ma'am" to the lady behind me.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Replaying that scene thirty seconds later, I'm not proud of coming so close to losing my temper. Jeez, I'd threatened violence, over maybe being delayed a couple of minutes?

There's something about urban life, cramming so many people into such a compact space, that puts us all on edge. And by "us all," I mean me.

Would I really have dumped that lady's groceries on her head? Not the tin cans, but maybe the dinner rolls.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Bought this morning's Chronicle and flipped through it while eating onion sandwiches. In the paper's second section was an upbeat story about a local girl, age 7, hoping to set a record as the youngest brat to fly a plane somewhere and back.

The headline made my eyes roll, and I didn't read the article.

Seems the kid won't be reading it either. Blaring headline in this afternoon's San Francisco Examiner: Child pilot dies in plane crash.

Scold me and shun me for saying this, but I laughed at that headline. Then I paid 25¢ for the paper, read the article, and went back and read the puff piece in the morning Chronicle.

Jessica Dubroff, the Christa McAuliffe of pint-sized aviators, has died. Her Cessna crashed this morning, at around the time the Chronicle was landing on people's doorsteps. In the afternoon Examiner's report, a witness said that the plane "went straight into the ground like a dart."

Imagine all the happy messages on the family's answering machine ("Great article in the Chronicle," "You must be so proud," etc) with follow-up calls a few hours later (Oh, I'm so sorry…).

A couple of years ago, the media made some noise about a 10- or 11-year-old kid who'd become the youngest person to fly a plane across the country. Presumably little Jessica was trying to break that kid's record.

In a competition to be the youngest person flying a plane, what happened today had to happen eventually.

The girl's dad said in the morning paper that he'd paid the total cost for her flying lessons, about $15,000, plus another $1,300 to print a few hundred souvenir baseball caps for friends and the media.

What an ass. He ought to be jailed, but that would be messy. He was on the plane.

"As she flies," her daddy said before being dead, "she is learning math, physics, navigation, geography, and weather — plus she will have a lifetime ticket to a certain social strata she can use or not."

'Not', it seems.

Airplane fall down, go boom. One less spoiled rich kid, who probably would've grown up and into the social strata that cuts off fat guys in line at the grocery store.

From Pathetic Life #23
Thursday, April 11, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life
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  1. Unrelated - in light of our reminiscences of Dollar Wednesdays in Oakland :


    1. Friggin' great, man. So long as the dogs are still wrapped, this looks like so much fun they should have hot dog tossing as a regular promotional event. Some ass would unwrap the dogs and mustard 'em up before tossing, though.

  2. I remember that day, and feeling all wrecked about a little girl who died. I'm not saying she was heroic or anything and maybe the whole thing was stupid, but you cheering her death, it makes me uncomfortable.

    1. Claude Reigns, Waterskiing SquirellApril 13, 2023 at 5:37 PM

      The problem is, the "news" isn't telling you *what* to think, it's telling you *what to think about* - what possible relevance was that spoiled little girl's life to your own?

      I laughed when I read Doug's take on that thirty years ago, and laughed again re-reading it today.

      We should cheer every death the media tries to convince us is an important loss (presidents, celebs, anyone in power or successful beyond reason) and we should celebrate every tragedy that they foist on us as a distraction from the never-talked-about real issues.

    2. NO SELECTION: Not being a plush sofa, I'm not trying to make you comfortable.

      CLAUDE THE SQUIRREL: I'm saving all my acorns for you. At the Times, four reporters work the Kardashian beat, but it took ProPublica to notice the Clarence Thomas is a crook.

    3. Claude, Yes, Your Honor, ReignsApril 14, 2023 at 3:27 PM

      At this point a Kardashian on the Supreme Court would be an improvement

    4. I boldly predict that absolutely nothing will come of the Thomas revelations.

  3. That social jostling reminds me of a scene when I went to see the author Sherman Alexie talk, here's the excerpt:
    I found a seat up toward the front and soon a guy took the one next to me, the place was filling up. He immediately let his legs spread apart into the spaces of his neighbors forcing mine to retreat.
    “Do you know what 'man-spreading' is?” I said.
    “No,” he said.
    “Well, it's been all over the news recently, mostly about rude men on subways and busses, and that's what you're doing right now. I would appreciate it if you would keep your legs out of my space.” He pulled back. A few minutes later he pointedly looked at me and held up a pack of TicTacs.
    “Are you saying I have bad breath?” I said. He nodded. I licked my wrist and sniffed it, nothing. “What are you, a tough guy?” He was one of those skinny bearded guys with finely coiffed hair, he sported a fancy shirt and a leather vest. We settled into the show and a few minutes later when I started to laugh at Alexie's one-liners the glowering man-spreader got up and left. (One of my favorite essays, you might have seen it in the AVA some years ago---Eel)

    1. It's new to me, or I'm old enough to have forgotten it, which is the same thing. I do the manspreading thing myself, a habit, only drawing my legs in if I'm on a crowded bus or have a big rip in the crotch of my pants and my underwear is a different color.

      Never tried licking my wrist and sniffing it. The traditional cupping of the hands over my mouth has always been enough to confirm that, as expected, my breath still stinks.


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