I had the pleasure of meeting the lady who lost-it-in-the-storitis earlier this year, and, I tell you, it was quite a memorable experience. Doozy comes to mind, when I search through the lexicon of slang terms that flow through my synapses, as I recall that moment from a few months back. I still remember bits and pieces of back then, in a minor case of my own PTSD, as I cluelessly rejoined the line in the store, thinking that all was ok. It was, simply put, a strange experience.
It felt at the time like an episode from Friday night’s What Would You Do, where the host plants cameras in a store and then sets up an awkward, but fake situation, to record the reaction of passers-bys. Except that in our particular case, John Quinones didn’t come out with a smile- in fact, no one was there to laugh and call us out. It was real.
So what would you do if a complete stranger hurls insults in your direction, and for no good reason? Worse- what if it’s directed at your child?
Setting Up the Scene
Here’s how it unfolded, back on that memorable day.
I took my son along with me, to return an item at the store. When we arrived, I asked that my son stand in line to save our place, while I ran down the aisle to look for something I needed. It was supposed to be an in and out job. I’m talking, fast like The Flash. Even Wonder Woman speed would qualify to describe how quickly I meant to be back. And I was.
When I came back into the line to rejoin him, I noticed the woman standing behind us practically exploding in anger. I had stepped on a land mine.
I think she may have felt I cut the line. It really wasn’t clear what had been done, but it was too late, and was already unfolding, and right in front of our eyes.
The Formation of an Adult Tantrum
You know those people that speak to you when they’re angry, but don’t actually look at you? As if they’re speaking to themselves?
That was how it began- insults mumbled under breath, the increasing decibels of their volume directly proportional to the warmth of the dragon fumes emerging from her flaring nares. Her eyes stared at the vast space at her side, as if there existed a person right beside her, agreeing with every one of her points.
Caught off guard, we realized the soliloquy taking place behind us was actually about us. It pulled us in like quicksand, and, before we knew it, we were stuck. I was being pulled in by mere negativity, and none of my son’s shoulder tugs could wriggle me free from her force. I felt myself slipping into the dark side, despite having taught the very same child who was standing beside me just how to resist the pull. My awkward smile slowly melted away, as her words processed in my brain- less because they were insulting, but more because they were aimed directly at my sweet, well-mannered offspring.
Without an explanation as to what we had done, her tantrum appeared to have moved into its next phase, the more audible of the two, whereby inclusion of my son’s clothing seemed to prove a point in the lineup of crimes we had committed.
What felt strange, once again, was that we had done nothing wrong and, yet, here we were, at the brunt of a stranger’s tirade.
She was suffering from losing-it-in-the-storitis, and I know for a fact that this affliction happens on a regular basis all across the United States.
No, this wasn’t a child’s tantrum (as I wrote about here, in The Art of the Whine), to whom the term typically refers, but rather the tantrum of a grown-up. The intensity of the tantrum, and its sheer ridiculousness, was similar to the makeup of a child’s, and I felt the urge throughout the course of its existence, to give the lady an appropriate time-out.
I turned to my son and saw the bewildered look on his face, as he processed what we both saw: this was indeed an Adult Tantrum.
The Tantrum Continues
As we watched in disbelief, we became aware of, at least partially, what had made her angry. The reason appeared before us like the particles of a spell, forming slowly in mid-air, as we stood, our mouths partly gaped. Aside from possibly perceiving that I cut into the line, the T-shirt my son had worn that day served to our line neighbor as proof of poor parenting. She had decided that I was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad parent based on clothing.
It was an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt- white with red lettering- super comfy, at that, made of that extra soft cotton material- and it said, “I throw touchdowns to myself.. I’m that good.” I found it quite funny at the time I had picked it out, but apparently I should have thought twice, as it had been offensive. Listen, I know you can’t really throw yourself a touchdown, but that’s what makes him ‘that good’! I had found it funny.
She told the air (her imaginary neighbor, who she had been passively aggressively uttering complaints to all along), “Just look at what your son’s shirt says. It shows exactly what kind of a parent you are.”
I know you’re confused. I was confused, too.
The T-shirt had deeply offended her- and deeply at that. In the present day, I pause before any T-shirt transaction is complete, giving homage to our encounter and pause to any possibility of future offenses.
In fact, I give extra long pause while at any Abercrombie & Fitch locations- not so much because of the aforementioned offensive piece, but rather because a clear-headed decision is essentially impossible given that excessive cologne spray that hangs heavy in the air. Does anyone breathe in that place? I need a rescue inhaler just to step in. In fact, any time a patient presents to my office with a chief complaint of dizziness, one of my first questions is always, “Have you visited an Abercrombie and Fitch within the past 2 days?”
What We Did
So what does one do? What would you do? When you’re challenged unfairly, and in front of your child- how do you respond?
Naturally, I answered her. It felt oddly uneven, with the favor on her side, to even be engaging in the discussion. We were, after all, two, and she was one. I think the fact that she was older also gave her some clout- an unspoken leverage of a sorts. Besides, from the outside perspective, she seemed to have merit, just in the way in which she carried on, as if we had truly committed a crime.
The story ends abruptly there. I know, it’s a bit anti-climactic- but I’ll just mention that we didn’t leave without rising tempers. Nothing drastic happened, sure, but many a-heads did turn in the store that day.
Well, what do you expect from a doctor and her son, and on a valuable day off from work, no less?
I wish, for example, and for the sake of excitement, that I reported instead on an Aaron Burr-like duel, or even a Taylor Swift-like insult war worthy of newspaper headlines- but those just didn’t happen. The lady who lost-it-in-the-storitis left the store and left me behind in it, my fists of rage clenched in anger- not only at her ill-placed outburst, but also at the fact that it was directed at my beautiful son, standing quietly in his unfortunate place in line, doing my dirty work- blasphemously holding my spot.
One good thing did come out of this puzzling encounter: I returned my item successfully!
Oh, and this happened: my son turned to me, with pride, when we left, and told me how much he appreciated my loyalty. Oh, and “could we no longer shop at Abercrombie & Fitch?”