For some reason I don't like buying alcohol when I go grocery shopping. I go to a store about a mile south of where I live. The alcohol department is on the second floor, which means I have to take an elevator and spend more time in the store. My justification for not wanting to buy the alcohol is that I want to be efficient at the store, not make unneeded trips to the second floor. This makes no sense at all because if I don't buy it at the grocery store I'll have to make a separate trip to the liquor store. But nevertheless, I find excuses not to buy wine at the grocery store, even though it is on the list every time. For example, I often go to the store early on a Sunday morning, before the liquor department is open. This doesn't make my wife Katie very happy.
This week, I went to the store on a Saturday and knew that I couldn't come home without the bottle of wine. After I filled up the cart with food on the first floor, I got on the elevator. The elevator is small and takes a peculiarly long time to close and travel up just one floor. One other man was on the elevator with me. He was in a jovial mood. He said good morning and made a number of nice pleasantries. On any other elevator, we would have been to the second floor by the time he said good morning. But on this grocery store elevator there was plenty of time to spare. After exchanging the pleasantries with me, the man on the elevator looked at me closely and asked, cautiously, "do you find it difficult to be . . ," he paused a moment, "Short." If we hadn't already exchanged the good mornings and hellos, I might have been upset by the assumption that things were difficult because I am physically shorter.
"No," I answered, "The only thing that would make it hard is other people." I tried to inflect in such a way to excuse him from my blanket, "other people" comment. He didn't know what to make of the comment though and by this time the doors had finally opened. He told me to have a good day, then went up to the liquor counter to ask about a bottle of rum.
I found the bottle of wine I needed, put it in my cart along with the other food, and made my way back to the elevator. The man who I rode up with held the door for me. "We meet again," I said. Before the door closed, another woman with a cart entered the elevator and stood between the man with the rum and myself. It was a tight fit. As soon as the doors closed, the man with the rum said, "I need to find some ice tea." A few seconds later, he opened his bottle of rum, turned quickly to the woman with the cart and me, said, "I hope you don't mind," then took a deep slug of the alcohol, finishing nearly a quarter of the bottle. It was a small bottle, but it was also 9:30 in the morning in a tiny elevator in a grocery store. He wiped his mouth and let out a deep sigh. "Are you okay?" the woman asked. The man nodded. "I just need to find some ice tea," he said.
When the doors opened on to the first floor, the man with the rum walked right up to a store employee who happened to be standing around near the elevator. "Where is the ice tea?" he asked. I went to find a place in a check-out line. I took my spot in a line that had a few people waiting to check out before me. I waited about five minutes. While I was waiting, I saw the man with the rum again. This time, he had a jug of ice tea with him as well. He was on his way to the express check out. "Hey," he said when he walked by. After taking a few more steps, he turned around and came back to where I waited. "Are you married?" he asked. I nodded. "Yes," I said. "Is she?" he stammered and again, paused. While he paused, I should have finished his question with something like, "the mayor?" or "a former spelling bee champion?" Instead I stood silent, thinking I knew what was coming next. Instead of saying "short" though, he motioned with his hand, holding it at his waist, to indicate someone who is short.
One would think I would be prepared for this kind of stuff. I've been asked the question in the past. But every situation is different. My mood is always different. The environment is always different. The people who ask the questions are always different. So I am never ready. Besides, words are tricky. I don't want to say my wife is normal height. What then would I be? I used to say average height but my wife doesn't like it when I call her average. I've taken recently to the word typical. I heard it used once at a disability conference and I liked it. "She is typical height," I told the man with the rum and the ice tea. I don't think he knew what I meant. Who could blame him. What does typical mean? He kind of shook his head. "Ohhhh," he murmured contemplatively, almost moaning in a way. He nodded his head. "I see," he said, sounding disappointed. He started for the express lane. But he turned back and said, "You should try kissing a tall woman some day. It's fun."
Again, I didn't say anything. I should have. Just as he assumed life would be hard if one is shorter, he also placed more value on a partner that is not short. But, like I said above, everything situation is different. And not all situations enable that quote unquote teachable moment. I had trouble thinking about teachable moments while I continued to wait to check-out. All I could think was, 'this is the last time I will buy liquor at a grocery store.'