Monday, July 14, 2008

"Second Class Citizen": that still means something


Saturday I was approaching the checkout line at a local Safeway with maybe 20 items, just a few too many for Express. There was a man in front with a baby stroller and “terrible two’s” toddler and a moderate volume of groceries to process, and I get in line.

Suddenly, his wife rolls her very full shopping cart over from some distance and butts in front of me. “Sorry” she says. No, she wasn’t there first. I notice that the cart include a box of huggies, but the kid looks too old not to have been potty trained.

I say nothing. Nevertheless, I wonder. Is that the meaning of marriage and parenthood? The automatic presumption of a right to move up in line, no questions asked? The checkout cashier, himself middle aged, indulged the toddler.

It probably took an extra 10 minutes to process her items. I wonder, why can’t you (the wife) be courteous and just have two tickets? Let your husband process, then me (I will take very little time with a small load), and then your large load. After all, I did get in line first. Okay, maybe there are some volume discounts that require that the loads be processed together. I still had the impression, though, that as an apparent singleton, I get in line behind families, or that this woman presumed that I must.

I recall an occasion about a dozen years ago, before my period in Minneapolis, in another checkout line in an Annandale supermarket. A woman, took twenty minutes to check out a quartermaster’s mess in a suburban grocery line, and then turned around and said to me, “you can tell who I am by the child seats in my van.” People with kids think they need their gas guzzlers, and maybe they do. And Dr. Laura Schlesinger used to start her radio talk shows with, “I am my kids’ mom.”

Back in the 1980s, when I worked in information technology for a credit reporting company, everyone had total responsibility for their own applications in production, and there was no rotating nightcall list. But in the 1990s, with an insurance company there was. A very few people sometimes did presume that I should do more of it because I was “single” and did take advantage of the situation.

I think you can see what the term “second class citizen” alive, especially in connection with the gay marriage debate.

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