My roommate and I had a brief encounter
with an unpleasant lady last week at Meijer, and ever since I
haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I missed an
opportunity to say something that needed to be said.

Mira Levitan

Let me explain:

Toting only a combined seven items (maple syrup, a broom, a jar
of peanut butter, a dustpan, a gallon of milk, a griddle and some
razor blades — use your imagination), my roommate and I were
waiting in the express checkout line at Meijer when a stout older
lady (who will henceforth be known as “Irma”) appeared
behind us and demanded that we push some of our stuff forward on
the conveyer belt so she could start unloading her cart. My
roommate, slightly taken aback, said well, actually we
couldn’t, because see the broom was already poking the
groceries of the woman in front of us, and there were none of those
little plastic divider things left. Irma didn’t have time for
this. She gave our seven items a shove — nearly skewering the
cashier with the broom handle — and set to work. My roommate,
still baffled, noticed Irma’s full cart and said that, ummm,
this was the 12-items-or-fewer line. “Well,” Irma
snapped as she plunked a huge package of paper towels on the belt,
“I’m legally blind and I can’t see things like
that.”

Oh. Well.

Irma turned back to the man pushing her cart (her husband?) and
said, loudly, “She was getting snippy with me.”

We gaped, conflicted. Actually, I think my roommate was more
appalled than conflicted, but I was definitely having a major,
multi-layered moral crisis. Nothing makes my blood boil quite like
unprovoked rudeness, and under normal circumstances I would have
had no problem giving Irma an extensive list of places where her
attitude might best be stuck.

But these were not normal circumstances. Half of my brain was
all riled up (“You wanna see snippy? I’ll show you
snippy”), but the other half (“No, you must be nice to
blind people at all times and under all circumstances!”)
tackled it before it had a chance to seize control of my mouth.

In Entitlement Euchre, no card — not the gender card, not
even the race card — can trump the physical disability card.
As soon as the words “legally blind” hit our ears, my
roommate and I understood that our contributions to this
conversation were no longer welcome. Irma offered this information
not to inform or to explain, but to shut us the hell up and let her
do what she wanted. And it worked. She won the trick. I
couldn’t say a damn thing to this lady because all
immediately available evidence suggested that her life was harder
than mine.

Also, and forgive me if this sounds insensitive, but I’ve
been racking my brain for four days, and still I have no idea how
being legally blind (a term that encompasses a wide range of visual
impairments) gives a person license to unload a full cart of
groceries in the express lane at the supermarket — knowing
full well that it is the express lane — while others (with 12
or fewer items) are waiting. I don’t think it does at all,
and I think most legally blind people would agree.

Did I say any of this to Irma? In public? Ha! Sure didn’t.
Didn’t want to call her out and cause a scene, didn’t
want the other people in line to think I couldn’t appreciate
the daily struggle of the disabled, which, regardless of how
carefully I worded my objection, is what they would have
thought.

It’s a societal thing. Americans love disadvantage —
an integral part of the American dream — and they hate to
hear its situational relevance questioned. I’d be lying if I
said I didn’t love it, too — if I said I didn’t
take some pride in telling people about the crappy jobs I’ve
had to work to pay my bills — but I do think it’s
important not to let the big and small obstacles we may have faced
turn us into pushy Irmas, not to develop victim complexes or cheat
at Entitlement Euchre.

People carry around all kinds of horrors inside their heads,
traumas far worse than five years in the food service industry and
— dare I say it — at least as difficult to live with as
any other disadvantage you can imagine, physical or otherwise. But
that’s not what makes them great. What makes them great is
that they don’t use those horrors as excuses to be
unprovokedly rude at the supermarket.

Henretty can be reached at
“mailto:ahenrett@umich.edu”>ahenrett@umich.edu.

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