American Distraction (Have you seen my…?)

look before you leave

No doubt; Wal-Mart has good reason for this sign.

I found someone’s debit card in the produce section of Krogers. A Bank of America nestled among the bananas.

I’m beyond the point of wondering how someone drops/forgets their money like this.  I have assimilated well enough that I’m just as bad.

I wanted to ignore it (there is a dream time-slot at Kroger in the afternoon before the kids get out of school and the grocery store aisles are dotted with slow-moving old puffers – I can zip around them) because I was against the clock, but it was too big for me to walk away from. In the UK I could walk over/around the passed-out, the homeless, I could blinker out the lot of them, but someone’s bank card – that really touched me, that made it real).  My sensibilities are the same in Tennessee, so I take the card to the customer service desk, and I jump to the front of the line, in front of the lottery ticket and cigarette buying funsters. The clerk says, “I’ll be with you in a minute,” and she’s not happy; she thinks I’m just in a desperate hurry to pick up a pack of Salems. I waggle the plastic at her, say “I’m just handing this in.”

“You found it?”

“In the bananas.”

This is hard for me to say,  Bananas. If you don’t pronounce it in the American way, confusion reigns. I did my best. I could’ve said “fruit ‘n’ veg,” right? But I know better.

Americans are distracted. This is a distracting country.  American history impresses no one outside of the United States, ut this is okay, the past is done, and the present? The present is just an inconvenience between now and the future. America’s ability to look to the future – this is a good trick. America eats out all the time and so it is acceptable, it is merely practical, to discuss where you’ll eat dinner even as the server waits for you to choose from the lunch menu.

I am also distracted. My home is distracted. Rebecca is distracted by the location of her phone, constantly missing, regularly just out of reach. I’m distracted by the days of the week, so much so that my office whiteboard simply has today’s and tomorrow’s classes, the most important information I can’t remember. I’m no longer able to tell you what day of the week it is without visual support.

This distraction, it’s partly down to our new working environment. No one reminds me to do things, no one even points it out if I forget. Self-management is a chore, but it’s also a good stress test. On Monday I’ll ask students how about their weekends, and sometimes their answer difficulty is beyond language, it’s because they just can’t remember. I’m sympathetic.

Before we gave up on combining fast-food and fish, I drove to Long John Silver’s armed with coupons. At the drive-thru window, my least favorite place to speak American English, I ordered a Big Catch combo with rice and hush puppies (because I roll that way).

The response was bemused. So I try again, and this time the response is more confident. It’s not on their menu. I stare at the coupon in my hands and I’m emboldened by the print.

I ask again for the Big Catch combo. I have a coupon. I’m making a fantastical saving.

“Can you say that again?”

“I can say it again, but I’m going to use the exact same words.” I haven’t sounded this British since I got off the boat.

“Honey, do you have coupons for a different restaurant?”

I look at my hands. Of course I do. And maybe if you’ve grown up here, you can drive away from this with a smile. But I had to pay full price for a meal I didn’t want, because this level of mistake, this scale of fuck-uppery, I can’t laugh it off.

And that’s it, I can’t ever go back to Captain D’s (or Long John Silver’s either, the embarrassment leaks over to the place I didn’t even go to).

Fast food in Tennessee is a lucky dip. If you don’t check your bag before you drive away, you’ll regret it. The odds of them giving you more than you ordered, very slim. The odds of having your heart broken by a missed order of fries? Much bigger. 

Taco Bell

Taco Bell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a fundamental rule in the drive-thru restaurant business. Get the customer’s money before you give them the food. The last time we went to Taco Bell, the server broke this rule. The car in front received their food order, and then the car zipped forward 5 feet, and then stopped. We drove up, almost to the counter, and there was clearly that moment in the car in front, that sliding-doors two seconds where they decided, we don’t have our drinks but if we drive away now, we’ll get away with $27 worth of food.

We know how much it cost because when we drove up to the counter, the girl called the amount out. It was Rebecca’s job to tell her, so gently, that this was the price for the order from before, the one that got away.

We experience a delay (not the longest delay of my Taco Bell life; that belongs to April 2006, a Sunday morning order made during a rampant after-Church crowd) where the worker is torn a new one.

“Do you want these sodas?”

We glance at each other, and it seems worse not to take them. “Sure!” 4 enormous cups of Pepsi, destined to be poured down the drain. We don’t have enough bladder, we don’t have enough cup-holders, for this much Pepsi.

Rebecca says, “I hope your night gets better.”

I’m not sure that it did. (Would you have played good Samaritan and paid the previous tab? Did the Taco Bell girl lose 4 hours wages? I don’t know how these things work.)

My own distracted-ness, perhaps I can’t blame America. Maybe it’s early-onset dementia or late-onset BSE.  Whatever the cause, it’s contagious.

I can see the road from my desk. Some mornings I will hear the garage-door roll up and then Rebecca’s car leave for a meeting. Only once have I had to call her and say, “Your papers are on the roof” (They’re not on the roof of her car now, of course, they’re scattered along the street). But once is enough. Perhaps Rebecca caught this car-related move from me; I announced thirty minutes into our 14-hour drive to Minnesota that, No, I hadn’t put the iPod in the glove-compartment, and then, upon returning home, after 28 hours of hits-free driving, Oh, hang on, there it is.

I resolve to pay more attention, I promise to devote at least part of myself to the present, but it’s not easy to stay in the moment. I stop at a red light before joining the interstate and the driver behind me attracts my attention and the produces a combination of hand-signals that somehow tells me immediately that I didn’t close the gas cap door (really, this must have a name) after filling the car two minutes before. I should find somewhere to pull over, solve the problem, but I keep driving, wondering which way the door will slam. I imagine it cracking the wrong way, snapping off and smashing someone’s windshield. It’s a distracting thought.


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