I’ve learned more about human nature standing in grocery store lines than I have in all the college psychology classes I took.
One day last week I was in a long line at the store so I had lots of time to observe. Two people ahead of me waited a dad with his son, age about four.
The boy said he wanted some candy from the racks across the aisle — maybe two dozen types of candy bar to choose from. Fair enough; kids do that all the time. It’s their nature.
The dad started off, however, making a huge strategic mistake: he said, “You can pick out any kind except that one.”
He then pointed out a specific type of gum that came in a plastic tube.
Lesson One: when negotiating, don’t give away your ground position right away.
Those of you with any understanding of human nature can probably predict exactly how the story goes from here, but I’ll tell the rest of it anyway.
Sure enough, the boy strode over to the plastic tube of gum and said, “I want this.”
Dad: “Not that one. Choose another kind.”
The boy spent the next 10 minutes or so begging, threatening, charming, demanding, wheedling, and cajoling to get the plastic tube of gum.
The boy completely ignored the two dozen types of perfectly good candy he was allowed to have. Instead, he threw all his time and energy into trying to get the one type he couldn’t have.
“But...I want it,” the boy kept explaining. If the boy could just get his thickheaded father to understand he wanted to have that gum, then he was confident everything could be cleared up.
All the other grown-ups nearby quietly watched the drama to see how it would turn out. Would the dad give in?
The dad went through the checkout line and was about to pay for his items. At the last moment he turned to see if the boy had made a decision yet.
“I want this one,” the boy said, holding up a plastic tube of gum.
“Okay, you can’t have anything then,” the dad shrugged and paid while I and several other grown-ups hid our approving smiles.
“Come on then,” he said, picking up the grocery bag and heading for the door.
The boy trudged out, following. The fact the boy didn’t scream and cry as he was being led away emptyhanded from the candy racks should have been everyone’s first clue.
Page 2 of 2 - Sure enough, two minutes later the dad strolled back into the store carrying two items: the boy, and a plastic tube of gum.
“One of these got away from you,” the man said to the clerk, setting the candy on the counter and heading back outside.
Then the crying and screaming started.
“But I waaaaaaant it!” the boy wailed again and again, asserting his divine right to have it.
If he’s lucky he’ll outgrow that attitude before he’s, oh, 40 or so.
. . .
During lunch at Calf Fiend cafe on Tuesday, I managed to spill a double mug of coffee all across myself, soaking my shirt and pants.
For the rest of the day, if I asked, “Does it smell like coffee in here or is it just me?” the correct answer was, “Yes.”