Judging People is Great Fun (Until You Realize What a Jerk You Are)
Recently, I started a conversation with a guy standing outside a cafe in downtown Washington, DC. He had a tattoo of a tire track across his neck, and at the end of the conversation, he suggested I get one too.
“Really,” he says, “you should think about it. Get it right there on your neck. It’s cool.”
“No way,” I said.
“Dude, why not?” he asked.
“Well, first of all, I’m not stupid,” I said. “And second of all, I actually want to do something with my life.” Then I walked away, feeling a little uneasy about what I said.
A few years earlier, I walked into a business for a meeting. I closed the door behind me and stepped up to the counter where a young man stood with his back to me.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “I’m here to talk with Mr. Smith.”
The young man went about his work, ignoring me. I waited for a moment and then tried again, speaking up a little.
“Excuse me, sir. Could you help me? I’m trying to find Mr. Smith.”
He continued acting as if I hadn’t said anything.
“Okay,” I thought. “I get it. You’re so important – you jerk.”
This past Christmas Eve my wife and I went to the Hallmark store. Our baby was due in two weeks, and I wanted to buy her a stuffed dog for Christmas. I went to great pains to pick out the cutest one I could find and walked up to the counter with my wife, feeling all daddy-proud and Christmasy.
“How’s it going?” I said to the cashier.
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look at me.
“So anyway,” I said, “my daughter hasn’t gotten here yet – as you can tell – but I’m buying her first Christmas present anyway. What do you think?”
When she didn’t reply, I repeated what I’d said.
She ignored me again, rang up the purchase, and said, “That’ll be $6.40.” Then she crammed the stuffed animal into a bag and shoved it across the counter.
“Well, merry Christmas,” I said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Next,” said the woman, and then someone else stepped up to the counter.
The week of my conversation with the tattooed guy was a rough one. I had just started taking a powerful prescription medication for migraines, and the doctor warned that it might make me feel drunk. Thanks to that medication, I learned that I am a very confident drunk and, if I’m plastered enough, I will say whatever comes to mind.
By the end of the week, I was miserable and embarrassed. We went over to another couple’s house for dinner, and thirty minutes after we got there, the husband asked if I was on drugs (yes, in fact, I am!). The next morning, I called my doctor, and he quickly concluded the medication wasn’t right for me.
Unfortunately, by that time, I had spent six days tripping through one awkward social interaction after another, feeling obnoxiously confident, saying most of what came to mind, and shrugging off my wife’s concerns about the side-effects of the medication.
Getting off those awful meds felt like coming out of a bad dream – the fog lifted, discretion returned, and I felt sorry for the guy with the tire track tattoo on his neck. Even if I could blame it on the drugs, there was no way to find him and apologize.
Remember the guy at the business meeting who continued doing his work, acting like he couldn’t hear me? He wasn’t acting. He was deaf. After I waited for a moment, he finally saw me in his peripheral vision and was startled, realizing he hadn’t seen me there.
When I realized the young man couldn’t hear, I used my hands to explain why I was there and he quickly went to get the person I came to meet. He seemed embarrassed by the minor incident. I felt bad for him.
Two months after meeting the rude, Hallmark employee on Christmas Eve, I returned to the store to purchase a Valentine’s Day card. The assistant manager was working the cash register and, in the interest of providing feedback (and being a pansy), I told her about my previous experience.
When I finished describing my harrowing account, she asked, “Was the woman a short, red-headed, older female?”
“Yes, she was,” I said.
“You said it was Christmas Eve?”
“Yep,” I said.
“Then I know exactly who you’re talking about,” she said.
I felt a sense of satisfaction until she added, “Sir, let me just say this. You never know what people are going through.” She paused. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Without asking for any more information, I shut my mouth, took my card, thanked her, and walked out of the store, wondering what the older lady had been going through that Christmas Eve.
Her co-worker was right. I had no idea.