“What do you mean?” or “What are you talking about?”
I am not being sarcastic when I say it is lovely outside. I am not implying anything. I am not making innuendos, giving backhanded compliments or asking leading questions. There is no malevolent intent to trick someone into admitting guilt to something they didn’t do. I am not a secret government agent, I am not a prophet, and I don’t know anything about alien abduction.
I usually let a brief period of time elapse before answering the “what do you mean?” question, hoping that the simplicity of whatever I’ve just said will sink in, and I will not have to explain something which cannot possibly be explained any more simply.
Nevertheless, despite my generous moment of reprieve, the perplexed person continues to stare at me in stunned silence, expecting further explanation.
Finally, I reply, somewhat exasperated, “I mean what I just said. I do not know how clearer I can be.”
And I do not think it is because I am some brilliant mind mere mortals cannot understand, or that I have some sort schizophrenic disorder which makes me think my nonsensical chatter makes sense when in fact it does not. No. The problem, I am sorry to say, is that I am surrounded by idiots.
For example, the other morning I was running late as per usual and did not have a chance to make my one cup of coffee at home. I thus decided to make a “quick” detour through the McDonald’s drive-through, the only drive-through in town.
I pulled up to the menu board, which would turn out to be the first “leg” of my drive-through pilgrimage.
I was about to place my order when an unusually chipper female voice blared out at me:
“Welcome to McDonald’s!”
She then proceeded to inform me of all the new and wonderful menu items McDonald’s was offering. I was taken aback by her almost maniacal sounding friendliness, because any other time I’ve placed an order at this particular drive-through, the employee has always sounded …I don’t know, what’s the word? Hostile.
I therefore did not want to interrupt the girl because I did not want to discourage this improved customer service. Nonetheless, her spiel was unreasonably long and I was now officially late. I had no choice; I had to cut in. But before I could, her voice abruptly stopped and was replaced with a different voice – a disinterested-sounding male teenage voice.
The pleasing female I had been patiently listening to was a recording. (Okay, fine, I’m an idiot, too, but I did not say I wasn’t an idiot earlier – just that I am surrounded by idiocy, evidently my own included).
Anyway, this boy, a virtual McNugget of pleasantry, greeted me with: “What do you want?” as if I was an annoying vacuum cleaner salesman banging on his trailer door.
I told him I would like two large coffees, one black and one double-double, as well as two fruit and fiber muffins. I was going to have to bring something for my colleague now to make up for my lateness.
After giving my order I was met with an eerie silence.
The boy did not acknowledge me for a full 3 minutes.
He must have been called away. I decided to give him another minute before timidly inquiring, “Hello?”
“Yeah,” he immediately snarled.
His prompt response would suggest he had been silently standing there listening to me breath the entire time.
“Um…did you get my order?”
“What do you mean?”
OhEmGee. Here we go!
What did I mean? What did HE mean?
I gave him a moment to think about the question, and then in a controlled voice repeated, “Did you get my order?”
“Three seventy six,” he interrupted me, indicating he actually DID know what I “meant” and was being purposely obtuse.
Ten minutes later I finally get to lay my eyes on this kid as I pull up to one of three windows. I do not know why it took 10 minutes when there was only one car in front of me and I only had to drive several feet ahead.
Indeed, so much time had passed at this juncture that I couldn’t recall if he said $3.78 or $3.76 and I wanted to give exact change, so I double checked: “You said $3.78 right?”
“What do you mean?” he asked yet again, utterly bored with not just the redundancies of his job, but with life in general. It was plain from the non-expression on his elongated, acne-prone, slightly stubbled face that he had a chip on his narrow, hunched over shoulders. He was extraordinarily tall, which I suspect was the reason for his hunch
He continued to gape at me from his incredible height and in retrospect he may have drooled. He moved and spoke in slow motion. I think his dose of Ritalin might have been a tad too high.
We glared at each other like this, me trying to grasp that he wasn’t grasping my question and him wondering why I was asking what he considered a stupid question.
“Stare much,” he mumbled under his breath, but I heard him. I CANNOT believe what I heard, but I did hear him.
Instead of demanding to see his supervisor or being outraged by his rudeness, however, I pathetically attempted to defend myself: “I can’t remember if you said $3.78, that’s all.”
“Isn’t that what I said?” There was no mistaking his blatantly sarcastic tone.
I shook my head in disbelief. What has happened to society that teenagers speak to adults with such disrespect while they’re working at MCDONALD’S of all places? Apparently my information is outdated, but it used to be that McDonald’s had a reputation for instilling a good work ethic in young people.
I guess at this point they figure what does it matter? Fast food chains are all ready partially responsible for epidemic obesity, diabetes, crazed kids hopped up on high-fructose corn syrup and the degradation of the planet – in light of all this, being courteous in the workplace hardly seems relevant.
The problem with rudeness is that, much like kindness, it is contagious and unfortunately I was not immune to this contagion. Instead of scolding the boy, as perhaps I should have, I returned his jeer: “I don’t KNOW if that’s what you said - that’s WHY I’m asking.”
“Oh, OKAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay,” he sneered back like the insolent little asshole he was turning out to be.
I gave up and wordlessly handed him $3.78. His limp extremity only partially reached out to take the money which he nearly dropped on the ground because of his surprising lack of muscle strength for such a young person.
“That was a close call!” I awkwardly laughed as if we were on friendly terms all the sudden, because frankly I was bothered that this kid detested me SO much. I did nothing to him.
“What are you talking about?”
Evidently he mistook my attempt to make peace as a trick to confound him with complicated questions.
I decided it was useless, told him to have a nice day, and inched forward to the next window.
There were now TWO cars in front of me. I am still scratching my head as to how one car multiplied to two in FRONT of me in a one-car, one-way lane. Very odd.
There was no one at the second window, which also seemed odd because it looked like the driver in front of me had been engaged in conversation with someone or someTHING in the hidden recess of that second window.
By the time I reached the third window I had been in the “fast” food drive-through for 20 minutes. More time passed and eventually an unsmiling, short, round and bespectacled lady thrust a bag at me. Inside were two apples pies.
“Excuse me, but this isn’t what I ordered,” I yelled into the window where she had disappeared.
She reappeared an eternity later and asked, “What do you mean?”
Here we go AGAIN.
“I ordered muffins – you gave me apple pies.”
She offered me no smile of contrition and with thinly veiled disdain said, “We don’t have muffins.”
“Okay, well I don’t want these apple pies.”
“But you ordered them.”
“No, I ordered muffins.”
“Look, ma’am, I told you, we don’t have muffins. We only have apple pies.”
What the HELL was going on here?
“You know what, just give me my coffee and I’ll be on my way.”
Enough was enough.
But the woman just scowled at me. She was openly annoyed at ME and can you believe actually asked, “What are you talking about?”
I drove away without anything.
When I finally met up with my colleague much later than I should have, she jokingly reprimanded, “You better have brought coffee!”
“No, there’s no coffee," I sat dejectedly down beside her. “Don’t even ask.”
I quickly looked up just then, mentally urging her NOT to say it - not to ask that same old question. But it was no use. It was too late and when she asked, “What do you mean?” I clutched my head and screamed.