"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis


Earlier this week I was at Walgreens and I got into a line with several people in it, right behind two early twenty-something guys. One had his phone playing at full volume “music” (I shudder at using that word to describe it) that was just a bunch of angry, self-righteous talking/yelling, chock full of nothing but the f-bomb and variations upon it. The lyrics made Eminem sound like a choir boy. This wasn’t even musical—just somebody’s rant, like you were hearing one side of a heated conversation. The second guy of the pair ahead of me (who only talked loudly on his phone the whole time) had to tell the person on his phone to hang on when he got to the counter so he could grunt and point to the clerk which cigarettes he wanted. The whole episode lasted about three to four minutes, but it felt like an hour. The tension in that line was one you could feel physically crackling in the air.

It was just a really odd experience. And it lit an angry fire in me that I can honestly say I don’t experience very often.

I wanted to offer to buy the guy headphones…or a bar of soap. But instead I said nothing. I noticed he glanced at me once—almost as if he was challenging me to see if I would speak up—but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing it really, really made me mad. Besides, I didn’t know what to say to someone who was truly that inconsiderate and insensitive to his environment—we were in public at a Walgreens for goodness sake! If I’d scolded him, I would have only sounded like some goody-two-shoed old lady (I probably am) and really, would it have made him turn it down/off?

I’ll admit I absolutely hate confrontations. My body physically reacts to anger like I’m going to transform into a dragon, complete with flames coming out, so I try not to saying anything when I’m fired up. Standing there, I thought of several people I knew and wondered how each of them would have handled it had they been standing in that line. Not more than ten feet away from us was a mother with her toddler at the photo counter. As soon as those two had checked out, she and her child stepped up to the line, so I’m sure she had heard it, too, and had chosen to stay back. The guy in line ahead of them, probably in his late thirties, looked straight ahead the whole time and said nothing. The clerk, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties, checked them both through nervously, but said nothing to either of them about the music being inappropriate.

I asked Tyler and Emily what each of them thought about what to say—if anything—in that kind of situation. We had a good laugh spitting out scenarios of what would have happened had people reacted differently. Tyler asked me if I would have been so outraged if they’d been blasting gospel music. Probably not, although it was not only the filthy language that bothered me (yes, I’ve heard those words before), it was the volume level and the fact we were in a public place. After all, in the workout room in the building where I work people play music with similar curse-word laden lyrics all the time, and though that’s not my favorite music, I have never gotten angry about it. No, I believe it was the attitude of intimidation they were trying to project that ruffled my feathers the most.

Part of my anger was that I was disappointed in myself for not speaking up—not just for me, but for everyone else there. In reality, we all knew we’d just need to suffer through it those few minutes it took for them to get through the line, so I guess none of us felt it was worth the energy to enlighten some punk. And who wants to start a fight over something so seemingly trivial like offensive lyrics played loudly in public? But at what point do we as a society draw the line? At what point do we stand up for just basic decency in our corner Walgreens?

The experience was so surreal it did make me think of a weird type of social experiment that gauges people’s reactions—almost like a very lame segment on Candid Camera or Jackass. So I thought I’d ask Dragonfly readers what they thought about it. How would you have handled being in that line? If you’d spoken up, would it have been like a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie? Or a Mother Teresa teaching moment? Would you have addressed the obscenities with humor or appeal to them to be more thoughtful around little kids? Looking forward to hearing your comments either below or via Facebook.


Comments on: "A Time to Speak, A Time to be Silent" (3)

  1. Kristin Haynes said:

    I’d like to say I would have prayed & asked for the wisdom to act correctly in this particular moment, but… Being me, I first may have asked “rage/noise” guy, who or what group it was(interested expression-nonjudgemental tone) to see if he even answered me. If he answered nicely enough, I might even ask what kind it was, like Rap, Indie, “Freestyle Rage” (my name) etc. If again he answered, I’d thank him for telling me, then ask if he wouldn’t mind turning it down a few decibels!
    If he ignored me, I KNOW I’d have done the light tap on shoulder, & more loudly asked if he would please turn it down enough that it didn’t hurt my ears. If he still ignored me I’d love to think I’d walk away & find a manager to tell. I KNOW I’d try to see he had any weapon’s bulging underneath clothes, & ask loudly if anyone else besides me wanted him to turn it down. If they did & answered, I’d hope it was left at that, & he turned it down. If he didn’t, or no one else spoke up, I’d have to (under intense pain & restraint for me) leave the store or risk the “dragon response” you spoke of. I’d be the person that would be dragged out of line or the store, BY management or the ER First Responder’s on backboard or bodybag!
    I don’t believe crowd silence helps change the behaviors of the young, as it suggests they’re able to scare me or everyone into submissive behavior. This is how my childhood neighborhood went to rot, & the Public School System is now GONE. People just move away, that can, & the rest suffer, in my experience & opinion. We never moved, but my childhood & education suffered immensely! ( Another novel, I know!)


  2. Those who care less for themselves care even less for their environment. More than likely, as luck would have it, I would be standing with my two boys, Joseph 8 and Jason 7. And while I would be making eye contact with my children urging them not to say anything, Joe my eldest, whom I refer to as Justice Joe would politely ask the man to turn down his music. His naive nature and politeness are like weapons of mass destruction because he is so genuine. Jason and I would clutch each other’s hands and I would muster all the courage/ prayers to maintain Joe’s safety. But, on countless occasions what Joe has taught me, is that direct honesty and politeness are so overwhelmingly lost in our culture, that when used, people are so struck that they do what they are told. NOW, don’t get me wrong, I hate the idea that my eight year-old would try to save the day or even have to confront that kind of situation, but Joe has taught me so much about being convicted. I guess the real question is Why has our culture been lulled into accepting poor behavior? Do we hide behind the dollar? Do we hide behind fear? Are do we just simply hide and wait for it pass? Either way, I too would be mad at myself for not saying anything. However, never fear because Justice Joe is near! (More than likely I will need some sort of support group when Joe announces plans to be in the military or peace corps.)


  3. Kristin and Kim, you both were people I thought of when I was standing there. I would hope that if someone Joe’s age was there that guy would have turned it off, but you never know! If I’d had a kid with me–even the ages they are now–I probably would have been more vocal. The funny thing is that the more I think about it, that guy probably didn’t even think he was doing anything wrong or inconsiderate. And that’s probably what the saddest part of the whole thing.


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