Welcome to Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
I was recently studying in the library. Overworked and tired, I started staring into space, making a mental "to do" list in my head. While I was lost in thought I noticed a classmate covering herself up with her jacket. Little did I know, my eyes were gazing in the general direction of her breasts. I don't know this girl very well, but I could tell that she thought I was creepily scanning her bust. I didn't say anything at the time, but I really don't want her to get the wrong impression.
"Hey... Yeah. Remember a few days ago? I wasn't looking at your boobs," isn't an ideal way to start a conversation with a girl I'll probably be seeing a lot of over the next few years (it is a small program), but I feel like I should let her know I'm not that kind of person. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
Speaking as the caretaker of a modest set of boobs, I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I am much more likely to foster a friendship with a man who may or may not have checked me out one time than a socially inept weirdo who apologizes for boob-related issues days later.
You're right that "We appear to find ourselves embroiled in a sexually-charged mix-em-up!" is not an ideal way to break the ice with a colleague. What are you hoping her response would be? Best case scenario, what does she say? "Thank you"? "Oh good, I thought you might be a sex predator"? A huge part of polite conversation is anticipating people's responses. You have to give the other person room to be graceful. That's why we ask "How are you doing?" And not "In what specific ways has your life worsened since you were fired?"
Should you choose to pursue this neurotic plan to its painfully awkward uncomfortable end, you should know that, if she responds to your declaration with anything along the lines of "Why not, baby?" that's not real life. That's a fantasy you're having. Only you can hear the music. You're probably accidentally smiling at her boobs right now, lost in reverie. Look away.
Sitting at a table puts your line of sight directly at chest level for persons seated across the room and crotch level for those standing. The next time you find yourself about to zone out in the library, fix your gaze on the ceiling, the floor, or an inanimate object close at hand. (Or a mesmerizing Vine.) That's rookie stuff.
If you want to show your classmate you are not the kind of person who obsesses over women's breasts,try not using her breasts as an entry point into conversation. You know what subject it would not be creepyto bring up right off the bat? The very small academic program in which you are both participating.
A good rule of thumb for any situation like this is never to follow up on the thing that was embarrassing or misconstrued. Just proceed as though it didn't happen. Eventually, through the magic of time, the wonders of social kindness, and the faults of human memory it will not even have happened.
After a long and stressful day at the office all I wanted was a pick-me-up in the form of clothing, so I headed to Zara in hopes the store would solve my Wednesday blues. After weaving in and out of the crowd trying to choose my new closet necessities wisely, I was finally ready to wait on long line for the dressing room, an already dreaded task. The woman in front of me was holding one article of clothing in her hand and said to the person in front of her, "do you mind saving my spot for a minute?" Thirty minutes later (yes, I was still waiting in line) she returns to the line, only this time she has about 20 pieces of clothing draped on her arm. Essentially, she had come into the store, saved her spot on a long line, and then did her shopping while others waited. I politely hinted that she had surpassed her 1-minute promise, but she insisted she had been in front of me the whole time. I know there are variations on the beliefs of "spot-saving." Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
First, game recognize game: That is the most ingenious line con I have ever heard of in my life. The only way her ploy could have possibly been more devious is if she had requested to be allowed to cut to the front of the line due to her painful physical handicap: having HUGE, GIGANTIC BALLS.
But just because we are impressed by the audacity of a person's treachery does not mean we excuse it. An arresting officer might tell you your jewel heist was admirably daring as he zipties your wrists, but don't think he's loading you into the back of his squad car to drive you to Friendly's.
Lines only work because we, as a civilization, have agreed to let them work. This woman undermined the democratic foundation of the line. She is a terrorist or, anyway, a real bitch.
Every time we humans stand in, say, a checkout line, we are overcoming our basic urge to go directly to the cash register because we can see it, it's right there, we can see it! We stand in lines for the same reason we pay for things instead of stealing them: not because it's what we love to do, but because it's something we have decided we should do, for the benefit of the group. (For more appeals to human decency through order, check out this celebration of lines published in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year.)
I fell victim to a line-grift of my own just a few weeks ago, when I found myself at Marshalls (during weekend rush!) with a cart full of giant pillows and Christmas presents for my family that I paid full price for; I definitely didn't get them at Marshalls. I was nearly to the front of the line when an old woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I might buy something for her. After a brief period of confusion, during which time I thought she was asking me to purchase her a small gift because she had asked so nicely, I realized she wanted to give me money to pay for her item, so she could avoid the 20 minute wait. Since she only had one thing—a $6 plush baby's rattle—and since it takes under a second to scan a small item, and since it was Christmas(ish) and since she was old, I said "Sure." I would have wanted someone to do the same thing for my grandmother. (My grandmother has impeccable manners and would never pose such a request.)
THEN IT ALL WENT TO HELL.
I got to the front of the line and, as I began unloading my own mammoth pillows for purchase, the woman explained that I had to purchase her item separately—using the $10 bill she had given me and not my own credit card—because she might want to return the present that cost $6 that she was buying for a baby who doesn't understand what presents are. For the same reason, she needed to keep the receipt.
Now, not only was I injecting a separate transaction into the proceedings; I was injecting a separate cash transaction into the proceedings. I was no longer a beautiful Christmas angel granting wishes to the elderly; I was line-cutting accomplice gumming up the checkout works with poorly applied treachery. My gigantic pillows had already been rung up and I was not about to institute a third transaction by asking the cashier to cancel them. The old woman was becoming agitated with me. I was already furious with her. I paid for my pillows and her hopefully-perfect-but-maybe-not-perfect-might-need-to-return-it-$6-plush rattle with my own cash and gave her back some change.
"Am I supposed to get this much?" she asked.
"Probably not!" I exclaimed with tight smile. (Later confirmed: she wasn't!)
The lesson here is: Never help anyone ever, people are terrible, fuck Christmas.
You can jump the line if it doesn't inconvenience or delay anyone else who was already in the line (i.e. you can never jump the line). A spot can be held for the amount of time it takes to return to a rack and swap out one item of clothing for another of the correct size. These are The Rules.
The woman who cut in front of you at Zara (was she old? Was she carrying a plush blue baby rattle and a receipt for my two pillows?) could argue that, if you were willing to wait in line for 30 minutes to try on a pleather blazer and herringbone miniskirt, you were down to wait behind her no matter how many items she was holding when you stepped into line. That's probably true. But this woman obviously knew what she was doing was wrong. That's why she asked the woman in front of her to "hold" the spot behind her.
"Hey, would you mind doing something that has literally no effect on you, your well-being, your happiness, and your overall Zara experience?" Sure, why the hell not! Who cares!
It takes guts to say to the person behind you: "I'm going to leave the line for thirty minutes and when I come back, I still get to be in front of you, OK?" That's why she didn't do it. Her balls are big, but the part of her brain devoted to Machiavellian scheming is bigger.
Ideally, Zara would employ its own armed police force specifically to respond in such instances. (I'm sure a pack of popular sophomores would do it for a 20% discount.) Speaking with the wisdom of a former teenaged fitting room attendant, I can say it was really the duty of whatever employee was given the miserable task of manning the fitting room during the after-work rush on a weekday to step in and tell the line jumper, "I'm sorry, miss, but you'll have to wait in line." Those shenanigans never would have flown in a fitting room ruled by me.
(As an aside, I will note that if you want to know how clothing from Zara looks on you, the last thing you should do is make your assessment at Zara. The wait for the fitting rooms is—obviously—unconscionably long, the lighting is bad, and everyone who sets foot in there turns into a devil because shopping at Zara is a frustrating experience. If you want to cheer yourself up after a rough day, standing in line for the minutes is not the way to do it. The website offers free shipping and free returns. Shop at Zara at home.)
You let this woman jump in front of you because you realize that it's not worth it to play the short game in the line at Zara, where the end game is paying retail prices for mid-range garments. She jumped because she realizes that, if you do play it, you will probably win. Few people are willing to be more than a touch impolite in person; fewer still are willing to cause "a scene." Line-cutters exploit this open secret of the universe: if you are willing to endure a few tense moments, some eye rolling, and a couple LOUD huffs, you can get away with pretty much anything that is rude but not illegal.
But everyone will think you are an asshole and I hope the skirt you bought at Zara rips at the seams, you walking nightmare.
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions (max: 200 words) here. Art by Jim Cooke.