Thursday, June 23, 2011

Like a Page out of Dostoyevsky

On my way to meet someone for a drink in Rockridge, an upper crust community about 17 miles east of San Francisco, I was running a bit early, so I thought I'd stop in and pick up some fresh produce at Market Hall at a place I've shopped at many times before.

After finding the most superb lettuce, fresh strawberries, and cherry tomatoes, I walked over to the cash register where there were two lines. There was a female customer vacillating between lines, so I politely asked "Are you in line?" She said, "I'm waiting to see which line moves faster, and that's the line I'm going on." I confirmed that there were two separate registers, and two separate lines, and then I said, "Why don't you stand there. I'm going to pick a line, and a register and take my chances with it."

Suddenly, as I was paying the cashier, the woman charges over to me and in a very loud voice says, "You are very rude. You know that." I was completely taken aback. It seems like the height of hubris for one to occupy not one but two lines making everyone else stand behind you as you take whichever one moves faster. Certainly, we've all wanted to do this, but only a dedicated narcissist would dare to behave the way that woman did. The incident reeked of something out of Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground.

I didn't respond to that woman's tirade, but instead calmly drove home, and thought about how the ethos of me-first has now self-replicated exponentially. The response to a sense of powerlessness is, for some, the kind of arrogance that suggests that everyone else take a place behind them, even though common courtesy would suggest making room for the person who comes after one.

Having lived both in southern California, and northern California, for nearly thirty years, I've come to detect a difference between the two. In the south people are apologetic about being narcissistic, but in the north they're religious about it.

California has never been an easy place to live, but now it's downright scary. Scary times often produce scary people and these are, without a doubt, scary times.