Some Nerve

I never thought of Dr. Z (short for Zimmerman) as a man with a sense of humor. As our dentist for over 25 years, he was always quiet and unassuming. Soft spoken. Small hands.

This morning I was sitting in his chair for him to affix a new crown on my 2nd molar and he said he’d need to numb it because the tooth still had an active nerve. Okay, but one shot of Novacane didn’t do it. I needed another. So Dr. Z came back in and said, “Well, you’ve got some nerve” meaning that there was more than one nerve that needed numbing but it was the way he said it that made it funny – or was it the nitrous oxide?

Anyway, that led me to a scene I witnessed several years ago when those self-serve checkout kiosks started popping up in grocery stores. It was Christmas time, I think, and the place was really busy. I only had one or two items and the regular checkouts were backed up two or three deep, so I stepped up to a line for the self-serve kiosk. Two people were in front of me but we all had a few items so I decided to wait my turn patiently. The lady right in front of me was a little huffy because the man in front of her was taking his own sweet time. It wasn’t that the guy was deliberately being slow; it was that he couldn’t quite figure the contraption out. You know, a nice voice speaks from the machine, “Please scan your first item, and place it in the bag”. And you do that but sometimes wonder how she knows whether you’ve put it in the bag or not.

Anyway, if you don’t scan it right or don’t put it in the bag, she says once more, just as politely, “Please place the item in the bag.” The guy at the kiosk apparently wasn’t obeying her orders and the more he tried to comply the more frustrated he became. However, the lady in the machine stayed polite. “Please place the item in the bag.” Several more tries and the polite lady finally said, “Please see the cashier for assistance” and that’s when the man went ballistic. He yelled. He screamed. He flailed. He shouted obscenities. The rest of us looked on incredulously but no one stepped in to help.

Finally a real person, a cashier, approached and helped the man finalize his purchase and exit the store. He left obviously angrier than before. The lady in front of me seemed just as ticked off but she was not quite as verbal about it. She mumbled something while she scanned and placed, paid and took her receipt. She finally said something like “Well, of all the nerve”.

(That’s what Dr. Z’s comment made me think of. Maybe it was the nitrous.)

Anyway, that day in the grocery store I happened to remember a story about a man on a commuter train with three rowdy children who were running up and down the aisles, terrorizing the other passengers. When the most annoyed of the passengers finally spoke up and chided the man for not reining in his kids, the father finally snapped to as if he had been in a trance and answered, “I’m sorry. We’ve just come from the hospital. Their mother died and I’m trying to think of a way to tell them.”

After I finished my purchase that day, I thought about this story and that angry man. Yeah, he had some nerve and he had gotten on everybody else’s nerves. But I stopped out in the parking lot to see if I could find him, maybe find out if he was okay. Maybe he was mad at something or somebody else and took it out on the polite scanner lady. Maybe he had just gotten some bad news. I don’t know, but somehow I had compassion on him. Apparently no one cared about his bad day or bad experience, just how it had affected theirs. I got in my car and circled the parking lot hoping to spot the guy and see if I could talk to him. But I never saw him again.

This Christmas there will be frazzled nerves and irate people everywhere. I’m going to try to look at them with some measure of compassion because you never know what’s going on inside them.

Who knows? Maybe they’ve just come from the dentist.

2 thoughts on “Some Nerve

  1. Bruce Cokeroft

    Great reminder, Nan! I’m trying to share it on my Facebook page, but am having some degree of challenge. I’ll keep trying . . .


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