New Year, New Neurosis

As many of you know, I am a Pretentious iPhone user. It’s gotten me into trouble before but, for the most part, I’m pretty happy with it. Even after almost two years I haven’t fully capitalized on all of its functions, but between the basic Apps and the camera’s ability to take photos of Dr. John at increasing stages of drunkenness, I don’t need much more.

One function that I don’t use is the calendar. I still tote around a planner to keep my appointments and my “to do” lists. There’s just something very satisfying about crossing off a task that was written in ink as opposed to simply deleting it from the phone’s memory. The pen mark slicing through the words feels amazingly satisfying. Yes, I bought new boxers today…accomplishment!

Recently I ran into a stationary store to pick up this year’s At-a-Glance calendar for 2010. I stopped in on my way to the office and therefore was carrying last year’s version under my arm (it’s a 13-month calendar, so January 2010 is free). When I reached the check-out counter and placed down the new planner, the cashier – a woman who looked not too pleased to be at work on this day – noted the 2009 edition in my hand.

“That will be $50,” she said.

“It said on the shelf that the planners are only $25.”

“You have two,” she said, looking at my right arm.

“Oh,” I said, realizing why she had doubled the price. “I’m not buying this one. It’s mine.”

“Do you have a receipt for it?” she asked dryly.

“Well, no. It’s almost a year old.”

“If you don’t have a receipt how do I know it’s not ours?” she said.

Various factors led to my response: it was a Monday morning, I had no coffee in my system, my favorite sports team had lost the day prior, her monotone voice was coming off as sarcastic and, most importantly, it was a stupid question.

“Well, it says ‘2009’ on it,” I said as I held up the planner and gently dragged my finger across the numerals, “and I don’t think stores carry calendars from antiquated years. It’s also tattered and clearly has been used for a long time. I’m guessing about one year. There is also no pricing label on it like this clean and shiny item has,” I added, holding up the new planner.

“Finally,” I said as I flipped through the pages of the 2009 version, “you can see that someone, likely me, has written on every single day of this calendar. Of course, it is possible that even though you saw me walk into this store two minutes ago, I could have crouched down in the corner and essentially destroyed this planner from 2009 by writing copious words and phrases on every single page, with the sole motive of saving $25 on an item that is essentially useless in 2010. Although that is indeed a possibility, I can assure you this is not the case.”

Now you might be thinking, “Dr. Rob, no one thinks up annoying, snarky comments like that so quickly, especially you.” 99.9% of the time you would be correct. But not today.

“Whatever,” the woman said, rolling her eyes. “Just pay for the new one.”

I gave her the $25 and walked out, frustrated at her foolishness. Imply that I’m a thief, will you? Shame on you! I don’t need to deal with stupidity like this on my way to work.

You don’t have to be a Social Psychologist to recognize that tensions can run high when people interact, especially in dense environments. When you crowd well over eight million people onto a small island that isn’t much bigger than twenty square miles, you get the stereotype that New Yorkers are a hostile bunch. And that’s not an entirely false statement. We want things done quickly, get annoyed when people are in our way and, unfortunately, sometimes we anticipate and perhaps even look for trouble. It’s as if we periodically leave the house with a preconception that people will annoy us, and are therefore ready for a rumble at the first sign of effrontery. I tell my clients all the time, if you walk out your front door thinking that everyone is aiming to make your life miserable, they won’t have to. You’ll do it yourself.

And then, as I walked down the street toward my office, it hit me. She wasn’t the one looking for trouble, I was. Granted, she didn’t have any viable reason to truly believe that my ratty planner was actually theirs, for sale no less, but other than a query with a hint of bad mood attached, she didn’t do anything wrong. I, on the other hand, clearly had some out of conscious mindset of do not fuck with me today, I’m not in the mood, and I will say mean things if you give me even the slightest opening. And when she gave me that opening, I lurched through. Instead of simply being assertive and showing her the planner with the old year on it, I turned to passive-aggression. And in my attempts to make her look like the fool I thought she was, I ended up embarrassing myself instead. Again.

Tomorrow, when you leave the house for work or school or errands, do a mental check-in at the front door. What are you going to expect of others? Perfect behavior, no mistakes, zero sass, lest they feel your wrath? If that’s how you are starting off, I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t going to be a great day for you.

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18 Responses to “New Year, New Neurosis”

  1. Amber says:

    Oh Rob, you need to stop feeling bad about the response you gave. It might have been spoken with a bit of snark and sass but you handled it rather well. I, on the other hand, would have called her a fucking idiot and bitch slapped her in the face with the old planner so 2009 was imprinted into her forehead.

    You did good my friend.

  2. james says:

    This is a problem I deal with daily. I moved from a small town in Washington state to Panama City, Panama. Boy has this been an experience. After two years it seems to only get worse. People here are generally undereducated, rude, lazy, and act like 7 year old children whenever they find themselves in any sort of predicament. I definitely walk out my door thinking, “What the fuck is it going to be today?” Because it is always something; The taxi driver wants to rip me off because I’m American, the people want to step in front of you in line to the elevator and overcrowd it further delaying anyone’s chances to get to work on time. I go out to restaurants expecting service level to be 3 on a 1-10 scale. This is a very dense city and it seems it’s 75% full of idiots, and man does it burn me. As a result I find myself staying inside most of the time…it’s hard to accept a change like this. Government corrpution, dirty streets filled with garbage, no real law enforcement, no building codes, no health codes, no nothing. I don’t see how I can just “let it go” and be thumbs up psyched to leave my house ever morning.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Bullshit.

    Act like a slapdick and expect to get treated like one. Her mistake was seeing 2 and ringing them both up, the slapdick part came when she said
    “Do you have a receipt for it?” she asked dryly.

    Normal social conventions not to mention the general rules of retail say that she should have let it go, or at least taken a closer look before she mouths off.
    It would have even been ok for her to ask for a closer look to see if she could verify that this wasn’t something new off the shelf. But slapdick comments like hers have no other point than to offend.
    Even if she meant it as a joke, you don’t have to work in retail for very long to realize that what you consider as humor doesn’t universally translate.

  4. Alice says:

    Hmm, interesting that a lack of caffeine contributed to you being annoying and snarky.

    The other way I sometimes screw up my day is by drinking too much caffeine, which if I’m not careful can suddenly turn everyone around me into a massive moron just trying to piss me off.

  5. Tracie says:

    She certainly could have been nicer about it. (And who looks at a year-old, heavily used planner and thinks that it just came off the shelf? Really?) Bad days happen to everyone. I’d imagine that it’s harder to deal with them in a city like NYC. In Columbus I can get in my car, go through an empty lane in the grocery store, or otherwise grab a minute of seclusion from people in general if I need it; it has to be harder to do that in a city of 8.3 million people. If, all things considered, you still feel guilty in a few days, you could always try to go back and apologize. Sometimes I can’t hold back the überbitch and I end up getting shitty with people who occasionally don’t deserve it, and apologizing makes me feel marginally less like an asshole.
    P.S. Just saw the post about the book. Gooooo Rob!
    P.P.S. Speaking of planners, man, fuck Day Runner. I had to buy a refill in December for 2010 and the cheapest one was $17. Now they’re about half that. Next year I’m just not going to schedule anything until February so I won’t get gouged as badly on stupid paper with stupid holes in it.

  6. Wayland says:

    Georgia’s population is 9,685,000. It is also the largest state east of the Mississippi. NYC has only slightly less people than the entire state of GA. 🙂

  7. Risto says:

    I’m confused how this was a passive-aggressive response. Short of resorting to some manner of fisticuffs, this seemed quite aggressive.

  8. Rob Dobrenski says:

    The passive part of the passive-aggressive response comes from the fact that I used subtle (and probably unfunny) phrases to point out what I believed to be her stupidity. “Someone, likely me” and “I’m guessing about one year” are PA and condescending. If I thought she was stupid I could have just said so; loudly even. To me that would be aggressive.

  9. Cassandra says:

    If nothing else, the rude clerk helped you break your writer’s block. Snarky passive-aggression is good for something, Dr Rob! I see no reason for you to feel bad anymore.

  10. Honest Abe says:

    Whatever, I think the only issue here is that you gave this idiot, slacker, obviously angry person any of your energy. My typical reaction in such a scenario would be to apologize to them that the hate their job/life and move on. Now THAT is passive aggressive! Regardless, any passive aggression, or aggression at all, should be saved up and used for good, perhaps in the form of a good workout at your shiny new gym!?! But, don’t use the iphone on the treadmill, that could be dangerous.

  11. Yasmin says:

    Do you ever write down things on your to-do list that you can immediately cross off? (“1. make a to do list”). I find it so satisfying…

  12. Andrea Mader says:

    First time visitor 🙂
    Oh! So funny, entertaining, real and human! In the old days I would apologize and explain myself to this lady. Today I would just say nothing, show her the old calendar, pay $25 and leave – without really thinking any of it. (but I live in Miami. Do you have any idea of what the psychological consequences of it are?) I think I’m growing up!
    Congrats for your blog.

  13. Some Joker says:

    At least the store was stationary, it can be a real hassle to get stuff done when the damn things keep moving around on ya!

  14. Aurini says:

    How’d you look like an idiot here? Hell, this is precisely why I spend ten minutes in front of the mirror every morning yelling at myself – to be ready to deal with bullshit like this.

  15. Stefan Levee says:

    Great blog…

  16. Monroe Bergmann says:

    Very good, “thinking man” blog

  17. wayne says:

    I find good eye contact and genuine friendliness gets ’em every time- kill them with kidness and you always avoid ulcers……

  18. autism agression…

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