The lad at the counter was smiling, so I assumed he had not abused me anywhere in the sentence he just spoke. However, it did not help. I wondered what he was likely to have been saying. My mental machinery cranked itself into motion, and I had the following insights -
Crink...CRUNK...Kerblonk....sorry, that was the minor cold-start problem I usually have....now where am I...ah, McDonald's...at the counter, to be precise...did I say anything to antagonize the boy? No...and he's smiling, see? Yep, there is that, of course. So what the hell did he say? How does it matter? Just pretend you're the irate customer and just ask him for the burger and fries. He can't argue with that...
The infinite wisdom in the suggestion struck me, and I did precisely that.
"Erm... one Chicken McGrill, with medium fries, please." I smiled back for effect.
Once again, I was stumped, but I thought I heard the magic word "cheese" somewhere. Ah, something about cheese. My mental machinery needed oiling, but it did okay that day.
"N-no, no cheese, please." I did not smile this time, so as to not seem predictable. Unpredictability is a good thing. Keeps these counter-types on their toes.
"No, thank you." As you can see, I was a fast learner in pattern recognition. I did not do four years of engineering for nothing.
After a bit of chitchat, in the course of which all I understood was that the poor chap needed a cash counter to subtract 67 from 70 and give me Rs.3, I grabbed my tray and staggered out, briefly stumbling over the bunch of kids who were involved in a game that looked to me like "knock the tray out of his hands" or something equally endearing.
Replaying the incident later in my mind - I often replay incidents later in my mind, chiefly because incidents are few and far between in my life, and also because I always have the vague feeling that I never grasp the gravity of a situation the first time - I realized that the problem lay with too much protocol. Too many established procedures. Say this to everybody on that side of the counter. Smile. Repeat total. Use cash counter ALL THE TIME.
One can imagine. It numbs the brain. What these chaps need to do is have more fun, instead of throwingpeopleoffguardwithextraordiniarydisplaysofbreathcontrol.
Making a mental note to drop in a suggestion the next time I went there, I left the matter at that.
But this sort of thing is not an isolated case. The other day, Shrik and I decided to go down to the nearest mall to make some 'sensible' purchases. Shrik wanted to buy a steam iron, and I wanted to buy some mattresses. About half an hour or so later, I was at the counter, handing over one of those sports T-shirts that are probably only worn by geeks so they could look sporty (who else would fit into an 'Asian size M' T-shirt?). But that was not why I bought it. I bought it because it was made of some sort of fabric that looked really functional. Really textured and all that, so that when the tag claimed that "this T-shirt absorbs moisture a gazillion times more efficiently than the average T-shirt", you knew, just by looking at the material, that it would absorb anything. Even lava.
So I bought my nth blue T-shirt. The mattresses were important and all, but the mall did not have any, and this T-shirt absorbs moisture a hell of a lot more efficiently!
But that is not my story. I tend to, like I have done in previous posts, digress. So as I was saying, I was standing at the counter, handing over my debit card and the T-shirt, and the chap on the other side flipped my card over, and saw that there was no signature on the reverse of the card.
"Could you please sign on the reverse side of the card, please?"
One thing at a time, I thought. First, thank God they breathe normally. Secondly, what was that again?
"Sign? On the reverse?"
"Yes, sir - it's for your security. If your card is stolen, then the thief will have to duplicate your sign."
I thought I spotted a flaw in this logic. I am not normally very astute, but I have my moments.
"But if I do not sign on the reverse, then whoever steals my card will not know what signature to duplicate."
"No sir, this is for our security."
Not the most dazzling argument I have come across, but I let it pass. We were getting late for a lunch date of sorts, women had invited us, and that does not happen every day. The women inviting us, I mean, not lunch. Actually, lunch does not happen every day either, thanks to my nocturnal life, but that is not the point.
"All right, all right." I resisted the urge to ask him how he knew I was not the thief. A certain vacancy in his eyes told me that I was in danger of being taken seriously.
"Now, can you sign on the slip, too, please?"
The chap then picked up my card, the transaction slip, and - I am not making this up - compared the two signatures.
A nod in my direction. Approved.
More clutching at merchandise and staggering out followed. Shrik, who had, incidentally, bought for himself a denim jacket, was visibly shaken, and clutched at his jacket for comfort. It was probably a good thing he did not buy the steam iron... clutching at a steam iron may not have calmed him very much.
"My God. He actually did it. Compared the two signatures. My God. I had only read about such people. I thought it was one of those urban legends. It really happened."
Trying to be cheery, I ventured an explanation based on Calvin and his transmogrifier, but something in his expression told me he didn't quite buy that.
More replaying of incidents followed, much to my depression, and finally, thanks to my excellent grasp of economics, beahavioral dynamics, and the psychology of the individual, I made the following decisions:
- Avoid MacDonald's.
- DO NOT argue with anybody on the other side of mall counters.
- Use hard currency as a medium of exchange.
- Focus. Buy those mattresses.
- Test absorptivity of T-shirt.
Unless, of course, I have to watch a movie at Inox and only have time for a quick burger. In which case, I'll take a deep breath, and rushinandbuyaburgerwithoutcheesemakenoconversationandgetthehelloutofthere.