We heard you

I heard him. We all heard him. Our straggly group of folks lined up in Checkout Lane #4 — one of only a handful of checkouts that was open — became familiar with each other as we inched toward our magic turn at the cashier.

The person in front of me was hanging over her shopping cart, intently poring over a magazine she had selected from the nearby rack. "Oh, man, look at those two," she pointed out while extending the magazine to me. "What do you think of that?"

"I think it's probably a good idea to buy the magazine so you can take your time and read every word," I offer confidently. "Buy it?" she responded incredulously. "Are you serious? I'd never spend $4.99 on junk like that when I can read it for free. This is one of the things a store provides in exchange for making you stand in line so long. Why else do you think they put magazines right here? Why don't you buy it?" she counters.

"Oh, I'm just not that interested," I say, as she returns the now-used magazine to the rack and advances her cart since it was her turn to move next.

But I digress. The fellow behind me was on his cell phone and we all, everyone, heard every word. You couldn't not hear him on his phone even if you tried to distract yourself. His strident voice cut through the relative quiet.

"Yeah, she's still in the hospital. (pause) How should I know? They're doing more tests. It's always more tests. (pause) Nobody's saying why and nobody's saying how much they cost. (pause) Lee-Lee's in too? What's wrong with him? (pause) You're kidding! (pause) Whoa, what a bummer that is. When are you going to visit him? (pause) Say, I'll be there at the same time. Meet you in the cafeteria? (pause) Yeah, I've eaten there and the food's pretty good. (pause) Again, they're not sayin'. It's just wait, wait and more wait. Then it'll be pay, pay and more pay. I'm already making too much to qualify for the poverty level. (pause) [Customers advance in line] You got that right! (pause) Yep. See ya' over there. Bye."

I look down at the three items I'm holding. Is it worth it buying these today? I could leave right now and be done with these goings-on. But why leave now — I'm just two persons away from the cashier. A few more minutes won't kill me and besides, I won't have to go somewhere else to get these items. So I stay in line.

At that moment Mr. Cell Phone starts up again. "Hey, Trish, got a minute? I'm in a checkout line behind at least 14 customers who all probably have a credit problem of some kind. (pause) Yeah, there's nothing goin' on here. Nobody's movin'. I'm really stuck. And I don't see a shorter line to move to."

"I beg your pardon," I think to myself. "We're the ones stuck listening to you. If anyone's stuck, we are." Thanks to the wonder of cell phones and persons using them indiscriminately, we all now know your business. Hmmm, who's the patron saint of a happy phone death?"

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati Ohio.]

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