Once again, we encounter the gratuitously hostile stranger phenomenon.
I was running a quick groceries errand today, and a young man right in front of me dropped a cardboard carton containing a hot slice of pizza on the floor. Naturally, it landed top down, and the pizza was smeared all over the linoleum. I was right beside him as he froze briefly, looking down at the mess forlornly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, my Golden Rule reflex kicking in. I hate dropping food, especially ice cream cones and pizza; it brings back many childhood traumas. I genuinely empathized with the guy. And you know what? He completely blew me off. He didn’t look at me, acknowledge my expression of sympathy, or even grunt. He just left the dead pizza slice there, turned on his heels, and walked quickly off to call a staffer.
No, he didn’t have ear buds. He was just another rude SOB who has no interest in contributing to a congenial, mutually supportive society. Can you devise any excuse for this behavior? I don’t think there is an excuse. I think this is evidence that he is a member of the growing and thriving jerk component of American society. Why do so many bystanders refuse to demonstrate care for strangers in peril or stress? Reactions like I got is one of the reasons.
I also resent the fact that the thought that his response, or non-response, was racially motivated invaded my brain like a termite. He was black, you see, and I have spent so much of the last year being told that white people like me are to be presumed enemies of pizza-droppers-of-color that the the flash I was being made the victim of racial bias was a reflex. Damn the race-hustlers! If there’s one thing I know, jerkism is an affliction that knows no color preferences.
My only positive take-away is that I refuse to allow these kinds of depressing interactions discourage me from trying to behave like ethical neighbors, community members, and human beings should behave when they witness a tragedy, no matter how tiny or inconsequential. The least I can do is show that I care, and the least the stranger can do is show some basic decency and say, “Thanks.”
I will not let jerks turn me into Nelson Muntz (above).