What is it about Durfee’s that makes us all jerkwads?
In theory, Durfee’s should be a pretty okay experience. Having slowly lost my standards over the course of my three years at Yale, I’m pretty excited by the prospect of trading my lunch swipe for a 5-hour Energy and a gigantic bar of chocolate. Or, if I should strangely want real food, sometimes Durfee’s has sushi. Well, or a substance approximating sushi.
Look, I’m not picky.
I don’t have high expectations. But no matter how much I prepare myself for disappointment, Durfee’s is, each and every time I shop there, a living hell.
It’s small. It’s cramped. It’s like Grendel’s mother’s lair — dark, underground (sort of) and filled with overvalued treasure that, centuries from now, bards will laugh at us for having prized. You waited 20 minutes to spend $5 on a container of chocolate-hazelnut spread? Don’t you know you’ll die someday?
But unlike Beowulf, I am not the only hero who dares descend to Durfee’s in pursuit of the miracle health benefits of Greek yogurt. That is, by far, the worst part of anyone’s Durfee’s experience: the myriad other souls, cramped together like passengers on Charon’s ferry, each enduring their private hell.
I survived a natural disaster (yes, I just pulled the Katrina card); I know how suffering can bring people together. I have seen hardship make saints of even the most selfish stooges. I have connected with people who in any other context would have hated me — but our anguish and uncertainty brought us together.
This is not what happens at Durfee’s. Instead, the approximately 10 square feet of floor space not occupied by shelving and refrigeration becomes the grounds for a barely contained free-for-all. With the exception of a few pairs of friends, it’s every man for himself on the long, slow death march to the cash register. You just missed the Diet Coke, and you want to turn around and grab it real quick? Good luck, son.
I have stood in the Durfee’s line so exuberant with good news I felt I would burst. I have stood in the Durfee’s line wearing sunglasses because I thought maybe this will hide that I am crying — but they didn’t. I have stood in the Durfee’s line where my pretty new necklace caught and broke on another person’s backpack.
What do these three incidents have in common? Nobody said a word to me, nor I to them, until I reached the cash register and the cashier asked me, “Meal swipe?”
Never, in any place but Durfee’s, have I been so literally close to people and so absolutely alienated. This isn’t Harvard. We’re generous here. We’re nice. We have conversations with random people — in dining halls, at the library, during lecture. We help each other out. And then we get in the line at Durfee’s and we turn into heartless misanthropes.
Because even if you’ve attained Buddhistic levels of complacency, Durfee’s — the institution, not the alienating, isolating experience of shopping there — is kind of offensive. If you’re at Durfee’s between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., nearly everyone there has traded her $10 all-you-can-eat lunch swipe for $7 to spend on the most overpriced packaged food in North America. Everyone is trying, desperately, to pick two items that will total to not more but not so much less than that $7, and everyone is deeply frustrated that only half of said items have marked prices. Some of the people in line have class soon. And some of those people still care about missing the first few minutes. Also, the music is awful.
But that doesn’t mean we have to be. The next time you’re at Durfee’s, instead of giving the person in front of you dirty looks for having lingered over the hummus a little too long, maybe — and I know this is a long shot — try striking up a conversation. Remember, you two have a lot in common; right now, you’re sharing the same nightmare. If you pass the time pleasantly, you might forget for a little while that you’re forgoing lunch to buy energy shots for the paper you have to write tonight. You might forget the anguish of everyday existence, the misery and suffering that is our human lot in life.
You might get him to lend you the $.50 you overcharged your meal swipe.
Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.