My cyber-friend Michele, who writes the Integrated Mother blog, noted recently how annoyed she is by people who talk loudly on cell phones in doctors’ waiting rooms. She suspects there’s a touch of exhibitionism behind the impulse. When a man much too close to her for audible comfort bragged into his phone, “Well, I’m a business owner –“ she wanted to interrupted him and say “Yea, dork, so am I, just veiled in mom gear.”
I always thought people who invaded bystanders’ space with the noise of their phone calls did so out of oblivion, not hubris, but I understand how Michele felt when she suspected the caller was simply showing off for her benefit (or the benefit of the entire waiting room cohort). This is how I usually feel in the supermarket line. As the teenager cashier and bagger gab overly loudly about parties or “senior skip days,” I feel certain that they’re talking directly at me, assuming that this turtleneck-clad frumpy middle-aged mom with two small children in tow wants to live vicariously through them. “Just concentrate on my groceries. I don’t care about what time the cops broke up the party,” I want to implore. “I was a teenager once too; it was great; but I don’t miss it and I don’t feel the need to relive it through you.”
But of course, that sounds a little like protesting too much, doesn’t it? Such a soliloquy would surely confirm my identity in their eyes as The Soccer Mom Who Wants to Be Young Again.
Once recently, a friend unknowingly saved me from my interior venting when she spotted me from three checkout lanes away. “Hi!” she called out, loud enough that the bagger and cashier momentarily suspended their banter. “Great story in yesterday’s Globe! We love seeing your work on the front page!”
I thanked her and smiled smugly at the teens. Hear that? You think I’m a frumpy middle-aged homemaker? I’m a journalist! I had a story on the section cover of yesterday’s Boston Globe! (I certainly wasn’t going to correct her that it wasn’t actually the front page of the whole paper but just the front of an inside section.)
But the glee was shortlived as I realized the two teens probably didn’t know what the Boston Globe was. In fact, they probably didn’t know what a front page was. Home page, maybe. Or splash page, or landing page. But not newspaper page.
So maybe now they think I’m not just a frumpy middle-aged mom but also a frumpy middle-aged journalist. Whatever that is.
Yesterday something happened that broke this pattern, though. I was at Whole Foods, whose employees tend to be slightly older than those at the regular supermarket: twentysomethings rather than high school kids. But they still spend a lot of time gabbing with each other. On this particular day, apparently the cashier had just urged the bagger to sample something new and unusual, and they were enthusing over how much they both liked it. “I have a piece stuck between my teeth, but it tastes so good I’m not even going to try to get it out!” exclaimed the bagger.
“Have a wonderful afternoon,” said the cashier absently, handing me my receipt.
“With an image like that left in my mind, how could I not?” I asked him.
To my surprise, they both burst out laughing. I felt like I’d made a live mannequin in Covent Garden blink: crossed that seemingly impenetrable boundary. I was still grossed out by the teeth comment, but it was worth it to know that I’d had a moment of actual dialogue with the checkout team. For a second or two, I existed; I mattered: I registered, in their view.
And then they were back to their conversation and I was heading to my car. They, no doubt, had parties and raves to get to. And I had groceries to unpack. But it was a great split second there, when we were both part of each other’s consciousness.