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Knowing when to quit
By Kay Layton Sisk
Aug 18, 2006

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Knowing when to quit

I'm sure we've all experienced times when, had we just had
sufficient wits about us, to have kept our mouths shut would have saved the day, if not our dignity. This philosophy is along the lines of the adage that it is better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt. And so, I bring you the latest
cautionary tale from the I-can't-believe-you-said-that files.

This last weekend marked 34 years of marriage for us. As we
are given to celebrate not with gifts but with a good hotel and a
better restaurant, we followed our time-honored tradition and took off
to Dallas. One great hotel and fantastic restaurant experience later,
we breakfasted late, visited the Tiffany exhibit at the Dallas Museum
of Art (, and capped off our 24 hours out of Bonham with a visit to Central Market in Plano.

What were we thinking? I'd seen it busy before, like opening
week, but this was ridiculous. Lesser entities, ie, those not given to
ogling the fresh seafood cases and counting varieties of cheese never heard of before, would have returned their shopping carts and left. But we are made of sterner stuff and it was the xy-chromosome pair's idea anyway. It was so crowded in the meat/seafood aisle, that we split forces to each take a number. I pointed out what I wanted in the beef case and staked out the salmon. (The current coupon was for a free pound of Atlantic salmon with $40 purchase and as it was the last day of the offer, controlled chaos reigned. One staff member was devoted to hacking salmon filets in appropriately sized slabs.) It wasn't until we were checking out (and that is the point of this) that I noticed only 3 of my 4 beef choices had made it. A physics professor of mine had once declared when we were reviewing the results of a gravity experiment, that "3 out of 4" wasn't bad, so if it was good enough for the PhD, it was good enough for me. (This attitude made me a devoted fan of physics experiments, and had I had sufficient brains to handle another semester of calculus, would have garnered me a try at a physics minor.)

But back to the story.

We snaked our way through the rest of the store, soothing
our tattered nerves with the wine and cheese selections. Finally
agreeing that enough was enough, we picked a check-out line and

Just as we reached the coveted "next" position, a woman in
her thirties with a half-loaded shopping cart, cruises up and takes a
look at our purchases and then at us. Determining that we are obviously just killing time before we return to the assisted living facility, she whips around and asks: "May I go in front of you? I've left my baby [Here, admittedly, I inserted all sorts of dire conclusions, starting
with 'in the car'. It was rare split-second thinking on my part.] at
home. I'm breast-feeding and this has been such a madhouse." Pause for appropriate, affirmative answer.

At this point in the story, what are we supposed to say? We,
of course, amused our feeble minds with variations on a theme as the
day drew on, such as:

"If you hadn't stopped at Starbuck's and Dillard's, you'd
have been home by now."

"Hubby call because you're late and he wants OUT OF THE
HOUSE since he's been there an hour? Never mind that it's his baby,

"You don't look like you're breast-feeding." (My personal
favorite. I always looked like I was.)

If she had stopped right there, with the complaint about the
crowds, we would have been perturbed, but we wouldn't have been
insulted. But no, she continued on with the following classic line, not
only giving the two of us a new catch-phrase for the next 34 years, but
also proving once again that knowing when to quit is an art form:

"After all, you don't have anything important to do, do you?"

Where is a snappy comeback when you need it? Like…"No, the senior center bus isn't here yet."

"After I take out my dentures, the day's downhill."

And, my husband's favorite: "What, you don't think we'll
live long enough to consume all this, so we couldn't possibly have
anything important to do?"

So, did we let her go in front of us? Sure. What are you
supposed to do with that sob story? Wait for the second preemptive
person to show up a la Candid Camera?
( (My answer to the second attempt would have been "NO. Learn to manage your time better.")

We tapped our toes (got to keep the circulation going
somehow) and thought, I'm almost ashamed to admit, uncharitable
thoughts. About half of those had to do with allowing ourselves to be
pushed around by someone not even born when we started the
anniversaries. The other half had to do with time management, nerves of a brass monkey, and ill-advised side trips.

Then I noticed she was crying. Not sobs, but tears falling, being brushed away as she handed over her multiple coupons for items in
a cart containing, among other things, wine and organic milk. There
wasn't any baby food, but then, she's breast-feeding.

So I ran the final scenario: She leaves the baby with the
responsible party and takes out for a carefree, but time-limited,
Sunday afternoon. She makes a few stops and ends up where she was headed in the first place, the market. But it's beyond crowded with old duffers trying to get that free salmon. Her cell phone rings; it's the responsible party. Baby's awake, wants to feed and where is she? This is truly stressing. Stretching before her are countless afternoons when she can't stop-and-go about town because she's abused her baby sitter, no matter such is related to the baby. She spies a likely target in us and zeroes in. She gets what she wants. She insults us and probably doesn't even know she did it.

Or, maybe she does. Maybe that was the cause of the tears.
Days later, I am no less naïve, but I am feeling more charitable. I'll
think that ashamed of her rude assumptions, she blubbers while pushing her cart away. No thank you, no I'm sorry, no see you next time.

Because the next time it happens, while she's checking out
in front of me, I'm going to be right there at her elbow, giving her
the benefit of my years of experience. I'll share time-management
techniques as she hands over those coupons and looks forward to getting away from me and home to that baby.

Kay Layton Sisk:

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