So, here I am, wondering what I should have done differently in the situation I’m about to describe. It’s about pastry and public humiliation.
I was at the grocery story recently, where I swung by the bakery to buy a pastry or two for the upcoming weekend. Normally, I’d point to items in the display case, and the pastry clerk would put them into a box or paper bag. But on this day, I saw that a change had been made.
Now the jelly doughnuts, bear claws, maple bars and all their delicious cousins were in a separate self-serve case, so customers could take out their own selections and place them in individual-size plastic bags or larger boxes to take to the check-out registers. Hmm, something new.
After a quick scan, I decided to begin with one chocolate-topped custard crème. Just under the cabinet in which the goodies were displayed was a low counter containing bags and one-dozen-sized boxes and tongs and things. I put my selected item in one of the bags.
In so doing, however, I saw that the chocolate smeared as it touched the top of the bag, so I was in the process of removing the doughnut from the bag, with the intent of finding a more suitable container, when the pastry fell from my hand on to the counter (not the floor).
I didn’t know how I was going to handle this getting-more-complicated-than-necessary matter, so I picked it up and put back on the tray, not certain whether I’d just purchase it anyhow or turn it in as damaged. I just needed to park it somewhere while I figured out if there was a small enough box to house a couple of pastries. (I hadn’t yet seen that there were pastry tissues available with which to handle the baked goods.)
I became aware of a woman to my right, so I asked if she needed access to the cabinet, and she waved me off. So back I went to checking out how I was going to transport any of the chocolate-covered pastries I might choose … one per bag, if possible, or what-have-you.
And then the same woman rather abruptly reached in front of me to remove my offending custard crème from its perch and turned to the bakery counter to get the attention of the clerk, who was helping another customer. I heard words like “dropped on the floor” and “that woman,” followed by side-eye.
The clerk took the pastry and thanked the woman.
You know that road rage that makes otherwise sane drivers do stupid things on the highway because of some deliberate or unintentional action by another driver? Well, that same kind of heat rose up in me, and I was about to rip into her (verbally). But I took a breath, grabbed a single apple fritter, put it into a bag, and left the bakery department.
Now, clearly, as she was watching my dilemma unfold, I understand that this pastry-police shopper could not know my intent, only observing a scene in which it appeared that a dropped item was about to be left in place for another unsuspecting customer to purchase. I’m pretty sure I would have thought exactly the same thing.
My issue here is that she rather maliciously jumped the gun. Had she waited another minute, she would have seen that her assumption was incorrect.
But I rather think that in acting while the custard crème caper was underway, she was ensuring that the perp (me) would be passive-aggressively and publicly chastised. And, if I may make an assumption of my own, I envision her going home and telling the story with some moral superiority.
Yes, I am giving this way too much space in my brain. But the upshot here is that this is a store I shop at frequently, and the clerk working behind the counter that day was a woman I’ve purchased goods from many a time. We kind of know each other.
I can’t tell you how offended I am at being so eagerly and prematurely “outed” for what was not about to be a sin against sanitation, but what I will concede was, at worst, an inartful way of navigating a new course through the world of pastry selection. Yes, yes, it is all so small and petty.
I feel I should have said something (gently or even sarcastically) in the moment, but I didn’t. And that’s the piece that lingers. It’s not about the stupid doughnut; it’s about me, frankly. I didn’t stand up for me, even over something as small as being wrongly called out for a crime against baked goods.
I let that happen to me. So if this stranger’s intent was to humiliate me, turns out she got me after all.
Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at email@example.com