I want a time machine. Yes, maybe someday I will use it to become rich. But right now, I want it for something much more satisfying. I want to be able to undo my random kind deeds and polite behavior when it turns out the person does not deserve it.
You see, I’m tired of handing money to a cashier only then to hold out my hand for change and watch as she places the money on a tray, less than 2 centimeters away from my upturned palm. I’m frustrated by the fact that I hold doors open to let others pass first, especially women, only then for them to say nothing. Do you think, somehow, I’m obligated to do this? (I sometimes volunteer “you’re welcome” just to make a point.) And I get bothered when I stop on the sidewalk to allow someone to pass coming in the other direction only to have them completely ignore not just my polite gesture, but me entirely. You can at least look at me. I’m not that scary, I don’t think.
Yes, I want a time machine so that I can take back all of these polite gestures just moments after I commit them.
The problem is you never see it coming. How could you know that the cashier will turn into an ignorant boor when she gives you your change. And just when you are certain it’s about to happen, you are wrong. I have at times resolutely decided not to be polite only then to regret it forever. In one case, the woman turned out to be physically impaired. One man was mentally handicapped (I swear I didn’t know) — and there I was determined not to be nice. And then there was the time I chided a young man at a grocery store for being rude – only for him to tell me his best friend had committed suicide the day before. Oh, where was my time machine then?
“But still!” I want to scream. I worked in more than a dozen restaurants when I was in high school and college. I’ve worked in stores. I drove a taxi. I know how easy it is to be polite and friendly – and how well it usually works out in terms of tips. (By the way, free advice for our waiter friends out there. When the bill comes to 48 lei and you’re given a 100 lei bill, don’t come back with a 50 and two 1s, unless you want two 1s as a tip. Try pretending you have some common sense and break the 50 into change.)
So what is the problem here? Cashiers: Do you think no one notices you’re being rude? Do you think saying “thank you” makes you a bad person? Did the communists not allow you to touch customers, even with your fingertips? Is it a ridiculous store policy? Or perhaps you think my hand is dirty? Trust me, compared to where most of those coins have been at one time or another, my hand should not bother you.
Still, you don’t want to touch it. Yes, if I had that time machine, I could go back and avoid your hand when I pay you. I could let that door slam in your face as I go through first. I could barge through that narrow sidewalk clearing and make you wait.
And I suppose I might do that – except for one thing. What would happen if you built that time machine first? Now this, I worry, could really get ugly.