(post copyright 2016, Dawn Weber)
So there I was, just trying to buy some overpriced chicken fingers, when it happened: the horrible. The terrible. The unthinkable.
"Will that be all today, sir?"
I peeked down into my shirt. You know, just to be sure.
"Nope," I said, "not a sir."
The cashier's face had already turned bright red. "I am so sorry."
He was a new employee, judging by his shaky hands and the scowling manager behind him. Still inwardly stung, I waved off apologies because, hey -- I know how it is. I've worn the greasy shoes of fast food myself.
"No problem," I said. "Not a big deal."
Relief washed over his face. "We'll have that up for you in a minute. Can I have your name, please?"
I turned to the drink machine. "Just call me 'Sir.'"
While waiting for my meal, I thought about the whole exchange. I'd been called many things in my day: jerk, idiot and most recently, asshole, thanks to a stranger on vacation.
Here's a fun fact: In some states, pedestrians do not have the right of way, even at marked pedestrian crosswalks. Remember this the next time you're in Hilton Head.
The more you know.
But even though I've been called those awful things and more, I've never, ever -- not once in my whole life -- been called sir.
Ma'am, now, that's another story. Much to my great dismay, I've been in solid ma'am territory for a couple of decades, at least if you believe a particular security guard I see several times a day.
"Have a great night, ma'am!"
Ma'am this, pal. You're on thin ice.
With every ma'am he lobs my way, I grow older, I grow angrier. First ma'am of the day? My blood pressure rises and my right eye begins to twitch. Next ma'am -- wrinkles spread, collagen breaks down. Lunchtime ma'am? Osteoporosis. After that, the effects are cumulative, spiraling out of control.
By 5 p.m., I'm a goner.
Because to me, the word "ma'am" is a derogatory gender-based term meaning "Haggard old woman who owns too many cats." That's why I never call a female ma'am, even when I see one who has clearly gone over Ma'am Mountain. She can be a wrinkled, stooped, gray-haired granny struggling with an extra large bag of Meow Mix in the pet food aisle, and I will not call her ma'am. I will instead ask, "Can I help you with that, miss?"
You know, after hoisting my own Meow Mix into the cart.
"Sir? Sir?" the cashier called me, grinning sheepishly and interrupting my cat food reverie.
I walked to the counter as he pushed the tray forward. "Sorry about that again," he said. "Thanks for being a good sport."
I nodded and smiled and turned away. Hey. He was giving me food -- he could call me anything he wants.
And sir beats the hell out of ma'am.