A few weeks ago, I woke up in one of my "disrupt the universe, fuck up the system" moods, which can start with eating a different type of cereal for breakfast and end with making the foreign guy at work profoundly uncomfortable by engaging him in a deep and an earnest discussion about my sex life. This type of mood generally strikes me when I'm bored or constipated, or, heaven forbid, when I’ve managed to achieve both boredom and constipation.
After work, I went grocery shopping and couldn't find the type of bread I usually purchase. When it was my turn to pay for my groceries, the cashier asked me, "Did you find everything okay?" I had heard this question countless times before and had always mumbled, “yes”, going along with this meaningless corporate dance but, this time, I saw an opportunity to upset the elements.
"Actually, no, I didn't," I told the girl behind the counter, smirking and waiting for magic to unfold. The response was astounding; she had absolutely no idea what to do. Her training had not prepared her for this scenario. Either that, or when she was hired, the person who trained her said something to the effect of, "Now, this is extremely rare but occasionally the customer will answer, 'no,' in which case you should..." and, when she heard the words, "extremely rare," she simply tuned out, figuring this would never come up in her life. She never counted on a self-indulgent sadist to take her out of her comfort zone but there I was, putting my foot down and demanding change once and for all. She stared at me blankly for a while, like a frozen computer.
Finally, when it became clear that I would not deliver my fellow shoppers from the agonizing silence that befell them, she said, "Okay?" in a passive aggressive tone, suggesting that I was the crazy one. How dare I open my ungrateful trap and express the truth when asked if I had found what I was seeking, how dare I? Did I not have the decency to comprehend and respect the fact that this was merely a rhetorical question? Christ, they might as well ask, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” I did not fall for this trick, however, and just continued to stare at her until she willingly stepped into my trap.
She eventually asked, "What weren't you able to find?" and I said, "Pain Pascal bread," and she said, "Oh, I'm sorry about that," with about as much compassion as Apple's Siri.
"That's it?" I asked her.
"What do you mean?" she replied.
"I mean, weren't you prepared to do anything else?"
"Did you want me to find out when we'll get more of that bread?"
"Look, there are people waiting," I said, gesturing toward the unamused customers behind me, "and I don't want to waste everyone's time. You were the one who asked me if I found everything I was looking for and I answered your question. What were you prepared to do if I said that I didn't, which was indeed the case?"
"Honestly, sir, I wasn't prepared to do anything," she shyly responded.
"So what's the point of asking the question? That'd be like if I offered strangers $1,000 and hoped that they would decline my offer and just think I was a great guy even though I didn't actually have $1,000 to give them."
"I get it. You've made your point," she said.
"I wasn't trying to make a point," I protested, "I was trying to figure out what would happen next if I said that I didn't find what I was looking for, which I didn't."
"Look," she finally said, "I hear where you're coming from and you're right. It's just how we're trained. We need to ask."
"So it's basically meaningless?" I asked.
"Yeah," she admitted, "I guess so."
I paused for a moment or two, letting the satisfaction - that special kind of satisfaction that can only be attained by being right - sink in and finally said, "Well, thanks for your help," smiling innocently at her.
"Sure," she said resignedly, and as I made my way to the door, contemplating whether or not to indulge in a light victory dance, I heard her greet the customer behind me: "Did you find everything okay?"