Thursday, August 30, 2012

Olympic Spirit

To anyone who is finally emerging from withdrawal symptoms due to the disappearance of Olympic coverage, I offer this short story of Olympic Spirit.

My kids were always amazed that I had never been on a sports team, not uncommon for my generation of pre-Title IX women. Especially those of us with a solid Catholic education knew that phys ed was considered a frivolous subject, excluded from most parochial school curriculums. In my Catholic girls high school, we did finally have gym class with Mrs. Betty B, tall and knock-kneed, her silver whistle dangling from her neck and her annoying voice exhorting us to run or play ball, so we could return to class a sweaty mess. I hated her because she did not recognize my innate potential Sport teams were limited to basketball, and after being cut the first round of freshman tryouts, I harbored ill feelings to Betty B for the rest of my four years. I still went to the basketball games, where one of our fiercest rivals was St. Ann's Home for Wayward Girls. Games were played after school and spectators from the neighboring boys Catholic school were banned from the gym for fear of inappropriate comments.

My sad sports career continued, as I flirted with suburban tennis in my younger days and was happy to have mastered the scoring and where I was supposed to stand on the court when playing doubles. Now I'm tackling golf.

On a recent vacation Gary and I were golfing in North Carolina at 2 pm on a sweltering 97 degree day.  It seemed we had the course to ourselves--All the Carolinians were probably relaxing at the beach or sipping drinks by a pool. But, we finally caught up to a foursome of men who must have been tourists, too. They had all already teed off on the par 3 hole, but marked their balls and waved us to play through.

Gary went first, landing just off the green and I miraculously had a similar shot from the ladies' tee, landing my ball within a few inches of his. Gary chipped his ball too hard and it rolled about 15 feet past the hole. My turn. I could feel four pairs of eyes on me, but managed to put the ball about three feet from the hole. My gallery of men chuckled.

Gary missed his long putt and I stepped up to the green. Sweat was rolling down the middle of my back. Should I line up the shot in every direction? Walk around and pick up the stray leaf ? Squat down and eyeball that shot into submission? No, I just wanted to get it over with. I concentrated on my pendulum swing and tapped the ball. It wobbled over the 3 foot span and disappeared into the hole!

The gents erupted in laughter and applause and I gave them a smile and nod. I wasn't quite ready for a Tiger Woods fist pump, but echoes of legendary Olympic announcer Jim McKay's voice rang in my ears--"the thrill of victory!" So this is why people play sports. Wouldn't Betty B be proud of me-- that gawky girl in a scratchy white gym uniform, complete with skirt and bloomers had grown up to actually do something right in sports!

I could get used to this feeling and I crowed about it all day (poor Gary), even as my game deteriorated and McKay's "agony of defeat" kicked in. But, oh, how sweet it was!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Anger Management at the Stop n Shop

My youngest brother always enjoys these little rants from me---like the time at Thanksgiving, when I was ready to punch out the attendant at the YMCA. I'll never live that one down. I had my foot firmly in the door, blocking her attempt to shut us out and send us into the rain because, after all, it was 7:56, not 8:00 when the Y officially opened.

Well, this time it was the Stop n Shop deli on a Friday night at the shore. The store seemed pretty empty and I just wanted to pick up a few cold cuts for sandwiches on the beach the next day. Two young women employees, suntanned and ponytailed, manned the counter and only one other customer was already having her order filled, so I figured I didn't need to print out a number.

First bad sign was that neither employee made eye contact--no problem for me--long day, sick of customers, watching the clock? I didn't need to be Chatty Cathy with the local deli girls. The dark haired employee was waiting on the one customer, while the blonde employee was very busy, slicing meat, rewrapping it, tidying up, so I called out. "We're not together here", gesturing to Customer #1, a short older woman sporting a gray haired Dorothy Hamil wedge hairdo and a handbag embroidered with beach umbrellas and seagulls. She had just replied affirmatively for the 6th time to the inquiry of "Anything else?" I wanted to ask her: "Do you ever cook? You now have a quarter pound of just about every meat or cheese on sale." Maybe one more and her weekly shopping would be done.

Meanwhile, the cone of silence surrounded the blonde employee and she continued robotically slicing, wrapping and puttering around.  I scrutinized her for earbuds, but found none. She was just customer deaf, until I wandered over to the completed orders shelf, where shoppers who had left an order while they cruised the rest of the store, could return to pick up their order--no waiting. I poked around the 5 orders, wondering if I could find one close enough to what I wanted, when the formerly deaf employee found her voice.

"Do you have a ticket, ma'am?"

I took a deep breath, but then heard Customer #1 saying : "I'd just like a large dill pickle and that will do it," so I gathered in all my anger management skills and continued waiting politely. The end was in sight.

Deli Girl #2 disappeared into the back room for quite a while. Was she rooting around refrigerators for the pickle or perhaps catching a quick smoke? She finally emerged with pickle in hand, only to confront a line of 5 more people awaiting service. I moved aggressively to the middle area of the counter and looked customer #3 ( I considered myself #2) squarely in the eye. "I'm next. I've been standing here for 10 minutes." She was easily cowed but Deli Girl #2 decided to explain to me in detail the numbered ticket system. She pointed to Customer #4 who had now abandoned the line in favor of the ordering kiosk. He unwittingly became part of her defense team. "See," says DG2, we take the customers in number order, even the ones who fill out an order to be be filled while they're shopping.

"Ah," I say sarcastically "so you could have 5 or even 10 people in line here, but instead you will continue to fill orders for those shopping around the store?" I gestured wildly toward DG #1 who was cramming yet another pick up order into the shelf cubbyholes, as the rest of the line shifted weight and sighed. "And," I continued, "these customers won't be back for at least 15 or 20 minutes?"

That's ridiculous.
Yes, but I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.
Oh, so you have to avoid eye contact with customers. That must be the #1 rule.
Yes. It's company policy.
Not to make eye contact?
No, but to fill all orders by number. We hate it. Go complain to the manager. They don't listen to us.

I looked at her more closely now and the telltale lines around her eyes and slightly leathered skin made me revise my initial estimate of her age. Definitely approaching 40 and not a young, bored, apathetic kid like deaf blondie next to her.

I stalked off to find the manager, but now I felt some empathy for the deli girls and a job that sucks. The previously empty store was jumping and the earnest manager was scurrying around, looking for help he could assign to open another register and finally settling for bagging groceries himself.

I was suddenly very tired and slipped into the self check out lane. I would fight another day.

My bad luck continued, however, as I was behind another senior buying 2 Rollo bars with cash. I didn't think that was even possible at self checkout, but she was shoving quarters in like it was an old time slot machine. I had to wonder what kind of Rollo craving she had that she had to pop out to the grocery store on a Friday night. No milk, no bread on the conveyor belt, just 2 lonely Rollo Bars spilled down toward the bagging area. I turned to the woman behind me and rolled my eyes. "It's madness," she said. I smiled--a kindred spirit--took a deep, 'serenity now' breath and waited patiently. The night air was cool and refreshing, as I finally strolled across the parking lot and into my car.