The Hess Report


Friday, July 11, 2003

The other day, at Einstein Bagels, just down Baum Blvd from where I work, I saw the most bitter, angry person I had seen in a long time. Bitterness and angriness (B&A) run on a broad scale, from being happy and cheerful even as you and your family are loaded into Saddam's plastic-shredding machine to heading for the bell tower because someone dialed your home phone number by mistake. At some point on either end of the scale, we simply stop calling those people happy or angry and just call them crazy, like the two previous examples. We discount people like this and rarely run into them. Things get weird, though, when you meet someone who is barely on the fringe of the normal areas of the scale, maybe even a little bit over the edge, but not quite so far yet that anyone who cares to do anything about it has noticed.

This is the kind of guy I ran into the other day.

Einstein Bagels is an okay place to eat. The managers are usually on duty during lunch rush and the bagels are fresh. On the other hand, they can't find anyone really efficient to work the registers, and it seems that the food handlers can put together complex orders faster than the register kids can ring them up. I would think it would be the other way around. Oh well, at least their coffee is sour. Ba-dum-Bum! Anyway.

It's my turn to order, and I just want a cinammon raisin bagel, no toppings, sliced. Which is what I usually get, about twice a week. The guy taking my order (not one of the managers today), has taken this same order from me at least a half dozen times, but he still looks at me like I'm crazy for not getting their giant lunch combo and asks in a surprised tone "Is that it?" Yep. That's it. "Uh, okay."

So I step to the side and begin the five minute line-toddle to get my food and pay. A kid comes out of the kitchen, walks up to the guy two people in front of me and says, quite politely, "I'm sorry, sir, but I checked and we're all out of plain. I have an everything and an onion left," referring to the two bagel-wrapped hotdogs he holds in his gloved hands. The customer he's addressing is a short, skinny guy with a big Adam's apple and a close brown beard that's growing out the whole way down his neck. He wears a t-shirt and jeans, held up by a worn heavy-duty leather belt with a cell-phone clipped to it. Most likely he's a construction worker from one of the local UPMC hospital projects.

Instantly, his face turns to a snarl and he points to one of the managers. "Well HE told me there was a plain left!" he half-shouts.

"I'm sorry, sir. This is all we have."

"He SAID there was a plain." And he growled it. I mean really nastily, rip-your-throat-out growled it.

Blink. "This is all we have. Would you like one of these?"

At this, the guy stopped responding, and looked down at his feet. His cheeks were twitching. I started to wonder if he could make it over the glass counter before anyone could get a hand on him. I was wishing someone in the place had a gun. There followed a brief, hushed exchange between the manager and the kitchen kid, the gist of which was "Did you look everywhere?" and "Yes."

Then the guy starts mumbling about how this is fucking bullshit, etc., etc., and I look around to see if there are little kids in the place, which there often are. None today. He goes back to swearing, shaking his head and counting his money repeatedly. About a minute of mumbling and sotto voce cursing later, he's at the checkout. The clerk isn't sure how to ring up his order, as it's not clear at this point what food he does or does not want. She says, quite politely, "I'm sorry about the invconvenience."

"That's okay," he says, sneering. "It's not your fault. It's HIS FAULT!" He shouts the last two words, and once again invokes the Pointing Finger of Doom towards the manager. The manager glares back. At this point, the stupid kid approaches the checkout and asks the guy if he still wants his soup. The guy then goes into his parting tirade, all said in a raised, agitated voice punctuated here and there by a hearty shout:

"NO! I don't WANT the soup! This is SUCH BULLSHIT! I just WASTED my whole damn LUNCH! Now I gotta go eat SOMEWHERE ELSE!" And then he turned with what I thought was a particularly quee flourish (I'm certain that he thought it was theatrically threatening) and stalked out. Everyone in the whole place looked around at each other for a moment, took a breather, then resumed their business.

I got my bagel and paid for it, and for the tenth time the checkout girl seemed surprised that I only wanted a single bagel with nothing on it. I headed back to work. When I sat down at my desk, I realized why I felt strange. To my surprise, I had been ready to fight this guy. You all know me, and I'm not really the fighting kind of person, but my adrenaline was pumping like crazy. I felt like I could jump about fifteen feet in the air and maybe, just maybe, open a older Compaq PC case without any tools. Had Angy Bagel Man tried to scale the counter, which I was thinking he actually might, I realized that I had been ready to make him eat the sneeze guard. Which, as I said, was surprising to me. I'll bet some other people there felt the same way.

Wishes and bets:

Wish #1: I wish the manager had thrown the guy out the first time he yelled.
Wish #2: I wish that everyone could accept a certain level of honest mistakes in life.
Wish #3: I Wish That We Could All Just Get Along.(tm)

Bet #1: I'll bet this guy hates the Gubment, because they wants to take all his guns.
Bet #2: I'll bet this guy gets in bar fights with regularity. That is, if he's even allowed in the local bars anymore.
Bet #3: I'll bet this guy JUST CAN'T UNDERSTAND how EVERYONE can be SUCH JERKS all the time to him, no matter where he goes.

Back to my original point, Angry Bagel Man is probably one of those folks who is on the far side of what we'd just call Bitter and Angry. He's so B&A, that he denies himself food over it. Pretty soon, he'll only be able to shop at one grocery store, fifty miles out of town because all of the other ones are out to get him, and from there it's only a short stop until he's only eating certain kinds of food, because Kraft and RJ Reynolds corporations are taunting him, personally, through their tv ad campaigns. I'd say that he has a lot to look forward too.

You fine people who live in Philadelphia or NYC, or any of the other great metropolises of this country, probably see wackos like this a couple of times a week. But here in Pittsburgh, our borderline crazies are few and far between. We treasure them. And so I hereby dedicate this story to the Angry Bagel Man. If you keep working, Angry Bagel Man, maybe someday you can take a rifle with you into the girders of your latest construction contract. Or you'll start poisoning the neighborhood cats. Or, hopefully, you'll be pulled over for DUI or reckless driving, and get violent with the arresting officer and find youself in the can for a long long time. And THEN you can yell at anyone you care to. I'm sure they'll be as polite and graceful to you as the guys behind the counter at Einstein Bagels.

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