I’m a bit territorial. It started with having my own bedroom as a child. While most kids go through the “Mine!” phase when they’re two or three years old, I hit that stage about fifteen years later when I first began college. Can’t say it ever really went away either. My first roommate. Lovely girl. Pre-med student… And in our room 24/7 studying – or as I saw it, in my room 24/7 studying. It all just went downhill from there.

Case in point: I’m one of those people who gets mildly irritated when I notice a car following me to my parking spot, especially if I see other spaces open in the vicinity. I’ll turn and give a big ‘ole smile – “Sure, you can have my space!” Then I’ll take my sweet time putting my bags in the trunk, pulling on my seat belt, adjusting my rearview mirror. That spot is mine until I am good and ready to leave it.

Same goes with those coveted seats in a crowded bar. Maybe my friends and I are ready to leave. Maybe not. Maybe I’d like to take in the ambiance for a couple minutes more. What of it? If I see you lurking behind me or I can feel your beer breath on my neck or I can hear you yelling drunkenly to your friends, “Those are about to open up!” forget it. You’re not getting our seats.

Yet I’m not evil all the time. Just depends on my mood. However, the one place where my territorialism rears its ugly head on a regular basis is at the store. Specifically, a store with a conveyor belt. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about unloading your desired items and then having to wait to purchase them that brings out the worst in people – or just me.

That said, I feel all Americans – in fact, all citizens of the world – should be entitled to wait in line without getting their bums bumped every thirty seconds by the shopping cart of some impatient mom who thinks that moving ahead those oh so critical two inches will actually get her out of the store any faster. Then there’s her screaming tot who’s throwing a tantrum because she won’t buy him the toy/candy/DVD he so desperately must have. I know she wants to get the hell out of Dodge. I also would like for her to get the hell out of Dodge. Doesn’t mean I’m cool with her attempt to bully me through checkout. First bump I’ll ignore. Second bump, she gets a look. Third bump, I will “kindly” ask her to back off.

That’s the typical irritation I experience. However, while recently at the grocery store, I encountered a new and intriguing kind of annoying shopper: The Conveyor Belt Stealer. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Please explain what that means.” Happily.

You see, I was just minding my own business, laying my items on the belt while waiting for my turn to checkout. When all of a sudden this mom and her son pull up behind me and begin putting their groceries on the belt before I’ve finished with mine. Isn’t there an understood rule of shopping courtesy? You don’t start unloading until the person in front of you is done? I looked at them incredulously. I never had this happen before. For a second, I even cracked a smile because it was so absurd. What was I supposed to do? Hand over my items one by one to the cashier? Instead, I locked eyes with the mom and (probably rather tersely) said, “I’m not done yet.” She didn’t actually respond, just looked over to her son… but they stopped. Problem solved.

So now I’m checking out. No bagger in sight, but it’s fine. I slide my cart to the end of the lane and begin to bag my own groceries. However, the petty side of me begins to grow, as the cashier doesn’t so much as mutter a “thanks” for the help. Instead, she just tells me my total and proceeds to watch me bag the rest of my groceries. Okay, beginning to get a tad angry… Like Bruce Banner on the verge of Hulking out. I finish up, but as I attempt to pay, I see that Mom Belt Stealer and Son Belt Stealer have pushed up their cart to block me from even getting close enough to hand the cashier my money. At that point, I could no longer contain my fury. I barked at them, “I’m not done yet! Move your cart back!” Again, they didn’t say anything to me, nor did they move. So I moved the cart for them. Yes, I bumped it back just enough to hand over my cash and then proceeded to angrily stomp away.

That’s when the mom finally spoke… in Russian. I think. Oh… maybe they don’t speak English. At that point, I somewhat sheepishly pushed my cart out of the store while rewinding the events of the last five minutes. I still maintain that you just don’t take another person’s belt space while they’re trying to unload their items. On the other hand, I probably just raised my blood pressure by about ten points only to vent on someone who didn’t even understand what I was saying. So… Next time I’ll use the self-checkout kiosk. And perhaps pick up a book or two on Zen.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I have a problem. I run into people all the time. All the time. I see them in Target. At the grocery store. 3rd Street Promenade. The movie theater. I even ran into an ex at the airport once… and his newlywed wife of three months. That was super fun.

Not really sure what I’ve done in a previous life to deserve this torture, but that’s exactly what it is. Torture. I consider myself a fairly social creature, but I hate being caught off guard. Hearing “Anna?” from around the corner. Getting that unexpected tap on the shoulder. The sudden locking of eyes while flipping through O Magazine at Barnes & Noble.

This wasn’t such a problem back in Chicago, perhaps because everyone is seeking shelter nine months out of the year. Totally different story since I moved to California, though. It got so bad that one of my very dear friends simply would refuse to go out with me from time to time because she didn’t “feel like running into someone” that night. It was that predictable.

I think people generally don’t take into consideration how we continually prep ourselves for social interaction. It’s not just wearing the right outfit or making sure you have enough cash. It’s entering a situation guided by the knowledge of accepted public protocol; you should yell and get hammered at a Blackhawks game, but quietly watch and politely clap at Miss Saigon. Hell, even meeting someone for coffee comes with expectations and a certain frame of mind. How long has it been since I saw her? Is she still dating that guy? Should I ask about it if she doesn’t bring him up?

Needless to say, your defenses are down when stripped of any mental preparation. If I just want to zone out and do some therapy shopping for a few hours, it is a Bummer – with a capital B – to run into that guy you forgot his name but he was at that party that one time where maybe something might have happened but there’s no need to go into that at the moment and oh hey I guess he has a girlfriend now but she is totally eyeing you like you just killed a kitten. Awkward.

However, it’s a completely different scenario when I run into somebody while with another somebody. Specifically, Friend #1 who doesn’t already know Friend #2. I find it fascinating when two people from two different parts of my life meet. Blame my control issues, but as my life is somewhat regimented, it’s like watching a science experiment take place. I make the introduction and then stand back to see what happens next. Will they get along? Will they become friends? Will I really regret this in two minutes when Friend #1 tells Friend #2, “Anna and I have known each other since junior high. She once passed out while presenting her seventh grade science experiment. How do you know her?”

Okay, I’m a jerk for complaining about this. If anything, the tragedy would be to not have anyone in your life to run into at all. I suppose this comes back to the whole “glass half full” debate. I could look at these unexpected interactions as something really great – the universe is trying to remind me of all the wonderful people in my life. On the other hand, it just may be the universe telling me that I am bound to be continuously put into uncomfortable and embarrassing situations because what else do I have to write about? Point taken. Here’s hoping I run into my childhood crush tomorrow.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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