Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Bit of Compassion

In the recent tradition of Treppenwitz and Blog d’Elisson, I’m writing a bathroom-related post.

No, don’t run away! It’s clean, nothing gross, I promise.

I stopped into my favorite bookstore on the way to work this morning. The bookstore’s manager happens to be my former landlady, a nice if rather exacting woman. Sometimes we greet each other, but mostly I don’t see her because she’s at work while I’m up to my eyebrows in a book.

I was leafing through a book of cross-stitch patterns, considering whether it was too seasonal for me to use, when I suddenly realized I had to go. Now.

Now, I know that in a situation like that, one should ask permission first. But in this situation “now” meant right now, this very instant, and I had to make a split-second decision between a small breach of manners and ... um ... a much larger one. It was pretty much a no-brainer.

A few moments later, when I had some time to think, I realized that I had probably let myself in for some trouble, and I thought of what I would do if I were the store manager. Either I would know the person who was using the bathroom or I wouldn’t, and I figured that in either case I would let it go by. After all, if the person were someone I already knew as a customer, I wouldn’t want to lose his or her business. And if the person were someone I didn’t know at all, someone who came in off the street, well, it’s not nice but what can you do? Done is done, and bit of judicious ignoring, interpreted as kindness, might even win me a customer.

Be that as it may, Store Manager/Former Landlady was right there waiting for me when I came out, and proceeded to scold me in her precise and clipped manner.

I’ve seen some native-born Israelis respond with stunning bravado in situations like that. It can be as clear as a sunrise in June that they are in the wrong, but when scolded they turn right around and act as though they are the injured party. Wrong? Me? Not at all. You, on the other hand ... (It’s called hutzpah, and it’s one of our largest national products.)

Me, I’m a wimpy, law-abiding freier of a Yank, and I don’t do that sort of thing well at all. So I didn’t even bother trying.

Instead I said meekly: I’m sorry, but this was an emergency.

Store Manager/Former Landlady replied, archly: But you’re supposed to ask permission first.

Believe me, I said, there was no time.

Well, since I know you ... Store Manager/Former Landlady grudgingly began.

At this point I thought to myself: All right, then—just what, exactly, would you do if you didn’t know me? Have the police haul me in for using the bathroom in your store without permission? Take me to court? Calculate the cost of the flush and add it to my bill the next time I buy a book?

But aloud I only said: I’ve been coming to this store for years, and I’ve never done this before.

She had no answer to that.

Some people could really do with a bit of compassion.

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