Monday, November 26, 2007

Practically Stupid People

You know, I firmly believe that there are more unintelligent people in the world than intelligent ones.
But even unintelligent people don’t necessarily act stupidly. At least not on a regular basis. Let’s face it, we all have our moments of poor judgment or less than admirable forethought.

It’s the intelligent people acting stupidly that really roast my ass. An unintelligent person, doing stupid things, acting like a dolt, is just delivering on low expectations. I don’t expect to ever be surprised by these people, so their actions don’t disappoint me, and when they do come up bigger than anticipated, it even makes me a little happy in the place inside me that stores the judgmental mercury switch my temperament uses to decide whether to be giddy and content or irate and contemptible.

Yes, those bright folks who you know damned well possess more than the minimum number of IQ points necessary to function daily and not have to rely on the goodness of others not to be taken shameless advantage of, these are the ones who, when they act profoundly stupid, churn the bile forth in copious quantities from the appropriate duct.

Not to belabor what I would hope to be a rather self-evident truth, but take this for example:
I’m at a local supermarket. I’m out wantonly burning off eight dollars or so of gasoline for one reason or another when my wife calls me on my iPhone (shameless plug, because, yes, I love it, and her for giving it to me, but by no means only for that reason) to stop and pick up something food-related. It’s likely milk, as we ingest prodigious quantities and always need a gallon of either whole or skim, but I digress, because the only important note about what I am buying is that there are only two or three pieces in total.
So there I am in line, and in front of me in the express line is a woman who is a principal at a local elementary school. She happens to possess a master’s in one sort of education or another, and while my personal interaction with her is pretty much non-existent to this point in time, I’ve heard other people speak of her as very intelligent, capable, effective, and insightful.

And in this checkout line, which happens to be the express lane with a limit of fifteen items or less, this bright professional woman has decided to blatantly ignore the brightly illuminated threshold and has packed the belt with easily two times the allowable maximum. Of course, I don’t expect the cashier to say anything. The sign may be clear and clearly posted, but in one of the weirdest quirks of customer service ideology, stores would rather advocate the position of the ignorant rule-breaker and thoroughly piss off those behind who are truly in some sort of rush, no doubt bowing to the big spender at the expense of the small shopper. So I feel bad for the cashier, because she’s perfectly aware of what’s going on.

Well, The Principal looks at me, with my three items or so, and professes genuine remorse at having clogged the express lane with her few dozen purchases. She tries to justify it by telling me that there didn’t seem to be many people in the store, and when she got to the checkout area, she noticed nobody in the express lane, so she figured she would be paid and gone before anybody else came in behind her. So, this would be strike one in her exhibition of what I will now call Practical Stupidity. She made a real time, baseless assumption with utter disregard for the way life works in practice.

She could, of course, have offered to let me go in front of her. The belt is turned off, and the groceries aren’t going anywhere. I could have snuck by and paid and been gone before her first container of yogurt had been scanned. But she doesn’t make the offer. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t even consider it. She carries on in her obviously world-issue-level important shopping event. That would be strike two.

She watches as the cashier scans her items. As it’s the express lane, the cashier is conditioned to bag as she goes, so the mints and meats and chips and dips are passed over bagged and ready to carry. Eventually, the last loaf of bread is rung up, and a total has been derived. The cashier relays this information to The Principal.

Now, this is where most people have the money already close at hand. Or the debit card out and prepared to swipe. At the least, they’re sliding the wallet from the purse or pocket with minimal delay, having arrived at the wholly expected moment when one, as the purchaser, makes good on his or her side of the transaction and remits payment, whether real or virtual, and brings the whole blessed happening to its inevitable conclusion.

No, The Principal, this allegedly able administrator of some hallowed hall of our youngsters’ educations, apparently does not firmly grasp how this progression of little processes is supposed to play out. So when the cashier speaks to her of the total due, The Principal’s face takes on the guileless, blank look of a person so utterly out of her depth that she should never be allowed to cross any street, busy or otherwise, without the closely attendant assistance of at least the village idiot. And after she’s overcome her comprehension issue and understands what exactly is being asked of her, her hands scramble clumsily and her arms flutter pathetically as she searches for the purse that is, for whatever reason, hiding in plain sight on her shoulder. And when she realizes where her purse has been hiding, (and without my help because by this time I am morbidly entertained by her unwitting idiocy) she whips it from her shoulder, brushing against the candy and gum point-of-sale display and knocking a Snickers bar from its cozy berth. She ignores this act of confectionery ignominy and digs through her purse, looking for her wallet, locating it before too long, then sliding from it her debit card, which she subsequently passes through the pad and completes the whole sordid drama. And then she leaves as though the universe is still as it should be, canted beneficially in her direction to mitigate her Practical Stupidity.

What frightens me, and what sends this person back to the bench unceremoniously after whiffing incompetently on strike three, is the inexplicably vast degree of surprise she seemed to display when asked to pay for her booty. I have no idea, but would love to have some inkling, of what was on her mind as she walked the aisles, placing each piece in her cart, proceeding to a checkout, loading the items on the belt (in the express lane, in case I haven’t mentioned it) and observing the cashier tally each UPC into one grand sum. She wasn’t indignant, she wasn’t irate, and she wasn’t angry. No- instead, she seemed absolutely clueless that the task upon which she’d endeavored would have one very specific, eventual end.

Oh, and I picked up the Snickers bar. The cashier told me I could have it, gratis. That’s when I realized the universe was about as balanced as I could ever hope for it to be.

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