by David Edgerley Gates
A gal I know, here in Santa Fe, put up a post on Facebook about something she witnessed in the check-out line at Whole Foods, a customer humiliating one of the cashiers, and reducing her to tears. You have to wonder about people who are so self-important that their sense of entitlement makes them think they can get away with crap like that, and it prompted the following train of thought.
Anybody who's worked in law enforcement or corrections, a description that covers a few of the contributors to this blogsite, are familiar with what we'll call the criminal mindset - one size doesn't fit all, by any means, but let's use this turn of phrase for convenience.
By way of illustration, a story. Years ago, when I was seventeen going on eighteen, I was hitchhiking in California, headed for San Francisco. This guy picked me up outside of Sacramento. He was in his middle to late twenties, white dude, an Okie. The car was a beater, but it ran okay, and he was going to make the distance, if I'd go in on the gas. He just had to make one stop on the way.
About halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco on I-80, you hit Vacaville. Some of you, who know the territory, physical or otherwise, might have already guessed the punchline. Vacaville is home to a state prison. The guy I caught the ride with was a recent release. He's going into the visitor's pen to see a pal who's still inside. All this he explained to me, no embarrassment. Wait in the car, I'll be out in forty-five minutes. You cool?
I'm not, but let's review the bidding. Hot, empty parking lot. He leaves the windows open, but it's not like he leaves the keys. I can read the situation, dumb as I might be. I think about getting out of the car and crossing the highway and sticking my thumb out again - hello? Who in their right mind is going to pick up a hitchhiker outside a California correctional facility? And truth be told, I don't see the guy meaning me any harm. He's thrown me a curve, sure, and I'm feeling unprotected, tarred with his brush. Is a guard going to come out and ask me what I'm doing there? I wait it out. Guy comes back, gets in the car, we drive off. He ain't making much conversation. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Hour or so later, we're crossing the Bay Bridge. The car's laboring up the incline, feeling it's age. We're in the slow lane. Big boat blows by us on the left, Caddy or an Olds. My guy starts to vent. "That old fart. He's got that nice ride, and I'm driving this piece of shit?" Well you might ask, and I almost tell him, you know, that old fart probably worked thirty years as a dentist, and the car's his reward for good behavior. He didn't start out sticking up liquor stores. Which is what I'm thinking. I don't say it out loud. I'm also thinking, it's time to get out of his car. He drops me on Powell.
Moral? I don't think the guy was a real hardcase, by any means, but it was the first time I bumped up against that habit of mind. I don't know quite what to call it. Narcissism? The notion that I deserve better. A lack of empathy, I guess. Criminals are sociopathic, almost by definition, in the sense that they don't subscribe to what we define as the social compact. That dentist in the Caddy paid his dues. Which makes him, effect, a sucker. He broke his ass, but I shouldn't have to. Most of us agree to stop at red lights, or not pass a school bus when kids are getting off it. Some of us, on the other hand, don't. We don't think the rules apply to us. We're in a hurry, our time is more valuable than yours and your life, not to put too fine a point on it, has less value than mine.
What does this have to do with the self-important blowhard in the check-out at Whole Foods? Pretty much everything. There isn't much difference between an ex-con who thinks he deserves the dentist's car, and some entitled buttwipe who thinks they can humiliate a cashier with a low-end job, and you've got the power of the purse. I got news for you. You're the one at the low end of the gene pool. You're a moral retard, and a sociopath. There but for the grace of God. You have no honest reason to condescend to me. I have the forlorn hope you'll recognize yourself. Fat chance. Odds are you're a bad tipper, too.