An article I wrote for National Review Online:
“Sorry I was on my cell phone,” the cashier said. “My friend goes to Virginia Tech, and I can’t reach her.”
Being a southerner, I’m used to non-sequitur “check-out conversation.” Cashiers relay anecdotes about arthritic hands, failed diets, and even failed marriages in the time it takes to ring up a week’s worth of groceries. Once, a cashier gave me nutritional advice after ringing up too many bags of Cheetos — I now avoid her lane like Elizabeth Edwards avoids the “other America.” Twice, earnest bag boys presented the Gospel while loading the bags into my trunk. (After blowing my grocery budget, I apparently emit the quiet desperation of someone who needs to hear the “good news.”)
So, when the Blockbuster cashier told me he couldn’t reach his friend on the phone, I smiled politely and wondered if I’d remembered to return Charlotte’s Web. I hadn’t been near a television; my children were out of school early for testing, and evidently the biggest mass shooting in modern American history had happened while I waited in the car line.
“They catch the shooter?” another customer asked, causing me to realize this was no run-of-the-mill small talk. The scarce details of the massacre went right through me. Several of the people in line were hearing the news for the first time too, and we all stood in silence. Dozens killed. Engineering building. Bomb threats. My son detected our somber tones and didn’t ask for the M&M’s he’d spotted.
Read the rest here.