THE POLISHED BACK of the espresso machine was making me uncomfortable. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than staring themselves in the face. Mirror reflections are notoriously unforgiving, considering that they have no ax to grind and suffer from no delusions.
There were two of us waiting in line at the out-of-the-way Starbucks. I was second in the amorphous and undefined line. I knew that the other guy had been there first, and so did he. Furthermore, he didn’t seem to be bothered by his reflection; in fact, he seemed to relish it. Six people in the building total, two customers being attended to, two clerks and us two, waiting. Time was not going to be an issue.
A seventh someone appeared out of the restroom just as both counter people finished with their charges.
“Can I help you?” the person behind the counter asked in the way service people direct their comments at groups waiting — not specific but general.
The man who’d come from the bathroom looked around, mistakenly guessed that we had already been helped and stepped up to the counter. The line being amorphous, coupled with the clerk’s question, and anyone could have made that mistake.
The man in front of me saw things differently; he went ballistic. He started screaming, not at the person coming from the restroom, but at the help.
“HOW COULD YOU TAKE THAT PERSON FIRST! WHAT AM I INVISIBLE?”
The other counter person stood there unattending to business. He looked on helplessly as a stranger screamed at his co-worker.
“Excuse me, sir, I am open over here,” he said finally, indicating his problem-solving nature.
The sir in question could not have cared less.
“DIDN’T YOU SEE ME STANDING HERE?”
“Please go ahead,” said the bewildered customer who had stepped up to the counter out of turn.
“THAT’S NOT THE POINT!”
The four of us weren’t quite sure what the point was. All we knew now was that two clerks and two customers were waiting while one lunatic raved.
“I’VE BEEN WAITING. IS MY TIME NOT IMPORTANT TO ANY OF YOU?”
Oh, the point was time being important.
“Sir, I can take you whenever you are ready,” said the problem-solving clerk again.
“THAT’S NOT THE POINT.”
OK then, so time was not the point either.
“IT’S THE PRINCIPLE.”
OK, now we were dealing with principles.
“I am very sorry,” said the offending clerk, seeking to right whatever wrong he could.
“Me, too,” said the offending customer.
“I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS!”
OK, maybe it wasn’t about principles either.
Meanwhile we all stood there while he ranted and ranted about his perceived injury.
I have stood on the other side of that equation too many times to count. The psychologists call it narcissistic rage — an irrational outburst when one is confronted with the reality that he isn’t really who he thinks he is. Whatever caused the outburst becomes inconsequential, all that matters is the upset.
It didn’t matter to Mr. Rage that the only person holding up the line and not valuing anyone else’s time was him; all that mattered was his upset.
It left me time to formulate these thoughts:
• There are some people who believe that it was Starbucks who initiated the current trend of ridiculously complicated, individualized personal orders that so favor narcissistic belief.
• “People with narcissistic personality disorder often display snobbish, disdainful or patronizing attitudes. For example, an individual with this disorder may complain about a clumsy waiter’s ‘rudeness’ or ‘stupidity’ or conclude a medical evaluation with a condescending evaluation of the physician,” reads a study on narcissism posted on Psych Central. The same study estimates that 1 percent of the general population exhibits narcissistic traits.
• If you find yourself yelling at the help in public, realize that everybody else thinks you have the problem, not the person you are yelling at.
• A little tarnish goes a long way.