I have a bad habit of responding to people who are in no way talking to me.
The other day, the cashier said “Thanks so much!” and I turned around from the door and gave her a hearty “Thank you!” back, thinking, boy, she really appreciates a customer, even if it’s just a small cappuccino, only to see that she was, obviously, in conversation with someone she knew, about something else entirely.
The other other day, on a plane, I totally went the other way. I was at the window and in the center and aisle seats were two women, relatives or good friends, who went through each other’s bags and chatted easily.
Airplanes are getting smaller, I think, in tandem with my own bodily expansion, and the center-seat lady and I shared the armrest, arriving at an amount of arm-touching that we could live with. I turned to my magazine and later, as she went through her purse, I heard her quietly say, “I’m sorry.”
Was she apologizing to me? Had the arm touching increased to apology-necessitating levels as she jostled her purse? I hadn’t noticed, my mind having been occupied by my magazine and the improbable nature of jet flight.
She kept her gaze steadily into her purse, apologizing, it seemed, to her bag. What if I missed a conversation between her and her relative? What if her relative said, “My shoulder hurts,” and Mrs. Center Seat said, “I’m sorry?” and I only caught the last part?
In that half-second it took me to look up from my magazine, I raced through the above what-ifs, and as I turned to her, I hadn’t made up my mind yet as to what was going on. So what came out of my mouth was, “Hmmmm.”
Not, “Hmmmm?” like “Pardon me?” just the straight up declarative: “Hmmmm.” Like “Hmmmm, you’re odd.” Or “Hmmmm, I’m a dick.”
But by God I didn’t talk out of turn . . .