Don’t do that.

I tell my children, “A practical joke isn’t funny unless everyone involved has reason to laugh when it’s done.”

I think there needs to be a law that no one should be allowed to pretend to pull anything out of the ear of anyone older than the age of eight years old, and nor to demonstrate their proficiency with the “french drop” to anyone old enough to drive.

french-dropFor those who don’t immediately place the reference, the “french drop” is what your uncle or grandfather used to do to you when you were a kid when he’d take a quarter out of his pocket, show it to you, transfer it to the other hand while vanishing it, then magically pull the coin from your ear while you pretended to be astonished.

It’s a singularly rudimentary trick that my son mastered by the age of six after seeing me do it once. Why it is a topic?

I can’t read people very well, so I have to rely on less subtle clues to gauge someone’s mindset, less subtle clues like saying “It’s all good, relax!” or “Here, have a cup of coffee that I made for you.” Less subtle. Like, totally obvious.

images.duckduckgoSo, Katie and I are at Costco*. Like ya do, we took whatever edibles were on offer at the sample stations, and by the end of our trip had amassed an impressive wad of those paper cupcake cups they use so they don’t actually have to touch the food or you while you snack.

I know that each cashier has a trash can at their feet so when we stepped up I held out the paper refuse and asked if it could be thrown away.

The cashier was male, about my age by the look of him, with a completely unreadable face, as expressionless as Abe Vigoda after a couple antihistamines and a vodka. He took the small paper wad from me and held it in his palm.

“This is trash?”

Of course it’s trash, I just asked you to throw it away didn’t I? Doesn’t it look like trash? Does it look like something I want to keep? Something with sentimental value? That maybe it’s got some valuable marketing information on it that I might want to refer to later when I want my house re-sided? Like maybe they wrote the cost estimate around the frozen pizza grease spots???

“I think so…” My mind had gone totally fight or flight. Mostly flight. What the actual fucking hell? Had I said something wrong? Why did he respond the way he did?

He turned to Katie. “This is trash?”

My world was stopped. My vision tunneled in on the cashier’s face while I tried to figure out what was going on, why giving him a small paper ball to be thrown away had suddenly become an issue to be dealt with. Costco on a Saturday is a place filled with unwelcome interactions. In the compressed time of anxiety, the line at the register lengthened and it was probably my fault.  His face and body language communicated nothing.

Katie just stared at him, her face a study in disinterest.

…and then he launched into his patter and started the motions, I recognized them instantly, his hands told me what his face hadn’t: “Pay attention now, and see something AMAZING.” The checkout becomes the side-show. Step right up, folks! Just one thin dime! One tenth of a dollar! See the hapless customer!

“Aha,” I said, trying to keep the anger and confusion out of my voice while the panic drained away, leaving me feeling vaguely ill, “The french drop. Yes, well done. Very smooth. Good on ya.”

When I’m on stage, as I have been many times in my life, I expect to be the center of attention. I know how to handle that. When I’m two hours into a multi-stop shopping trip I want to get my shit and get out.

Anyone over the age of twelve has seen the french drop at least a hundred times, whether they know the sleight of hand by name or not. Seen it, know the trick, perhaps  even become proficient at it.

The presumption made me angry, a little, but mostly I felt that I’d been set up for a prank to which I didn’t know the rules. I’d been made a target, been given unwanted attention.

If you’re neuro-typical, that might seem extreme to you. But bear it in mind, please, it’s not extreme to me.

* caveat: My complaint here is about the individual, not the facility. I’ve never had a bad experience with the company, ever.

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