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GROB: Don’t stand so close to me

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

Honestly, the guy would’ve been too close even if there wasn’t a pandemic going on.

I was in line at one of the local convenience stores, and everyone in there was doing their best to follow all the COVID-19 rules. Some people were wearing masks, a few were even wearing gloves, and everyone was keeping a distance from everyone else.

Well, almost everyone.

The proprietors of the business had made it easy — the floors were marked off with tape, showing people where to stand in line, six feet away from the others. I needed some cookies and some marinara sauce and something to drink, and I was waiting my turn.

GROB: Don’t stand so close to me
James Grob

I probably didn’t actually need those things, but I’d taken a walk for exercise and the walk had led me there and I figured that while I was there I’d pick up a few things that I didn’t have but wanted. So to be completely honest, this shopping trip wasn’t actually essential.

But hey, sometimes I’m a rebel.

Not as daring a rebel as the young man behind me, though. When I say, “young man,” you have to realize that I’m 52. I’d guess the gentleman was about 10 years younger than me. So I consider someone in his early 40s to be a “young man.” Your results may vary.

The young man was so close behind me in line that I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. He was a sturdy fellow, much shorter than me but barrel-chested, with a shaved head and a beard. He was holding a case of one of the more popular canned domestic malt beverages available on the market, as well as a package of what I think was beef jerky.

I disliked him immediately, not because of how he looked or anything he was about to purchase, but because he was really close. Really, really close. With each of his breaths tickling my neck, my base urge to just punch him in the throat increased exponentially.

This is unusual for me, because I’m not the type of person who punches people in the throat. I neither condone nor recommend such behavior, in any situation. It’s unkind and disrespectful, and kindness and respect are important to me.

It would’ve been so easy, though. This guy’s hands were full. He could not have blocked my punch. He didn’t seem spry enough to avoid it, especially if it came as a surprise.

The guy didn’t appear to be packing heat. I wondered if he knew karate or tae kwon do. That could be a problem for me. Maybe I should ask him. If he didn’t, I could punch him in the throat with one hand and smash the jar of marinara sauce on his head with the other. I figured the others in the shop would applaud in approval, because they had to be as annoyed as I was with this dude.

Of course, I did no such thing. Life is not a Chuck Norris movie. My mommy didn’t raise me to hit people just because they’re really annoying. I grew up in a Christian household. Aggression will not stand. Always resist the inner demons of your nature.

Plus I didn’t want to spend the night in jail for aggravated assault. And sometimes when cops arrest people like me, they hit them with a taser gun or spray pepper spray into their eyes, and I did not want to be tased or peppered. I just wanted some cookies, marinara sauce and something to drink.

So I turned to the guy and smiled, pointed to the where the floor was marked off, and in a non-threatening way mentioned something about keeping a six-foot social distance.

And he got mad, and it became clear to me that he had deliberately staked himself out that close to me because he wanted someone to say something about it, he wanted someone to confront him. He was looking for an argument — not necessarily with me — he was looking for an argument with anyone.

He loudly ranted and blustered for nearly a full minute about how the whole COVID-19 hysteria is all hype, how it’s fake, and he has his rights, and freedom, and media conspiracy, and liberals, and government oppression, and on and on and on. His rant was filled with obscenities that shouldn’t be printed in a community newspaper.

I’ve got a voice, I inherited from my dad, who inherited it from his dad. I use it rarely, but the few times I have, it has temporarily stopped time. This voice comes from the same place inside me that sometimes tells me it would be OK to punch someone in the throat.

“BACK UP!”

It echoed. It boomed. It pierced.

Then silence. The loudest silence you’ve ever heard.

It interrupted the rant. There were two other words in there, one which can’t be printed in any newspaper, community or otherwise.

Everyone in the shop heard it. So did the people out at the gas pumps, filling up their tanks.

The young man backed up. He obediently stood on his mark. He also shut up. He tried to give me an intimidating stare, but it didn’t last long. He looked down at his feet. He was embarrassed. He was meek. He was at a safe social distance.

In the post-traumatic hush now permeating the store, I paid for my cookies, my drink and my marinara sauce and went about my way.

There is no lesson here. There is no metaphor, or higher message, or clever play on words to wrap it up.

Just keep your distance, man. That’s all I ask. I shouldn’t have to explain why. Stay a few feet away from me.

Stay a few feet away from everyone.

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