The young cashier smiled as she requested my driver's license to prove I was old enough to buy cabernet in Columbus, Ohio. I complied and thanked her for making my day.
Something shoved against me, hard, and I teetered. I looked down at the grocery cart pressed against my hip and then at the man who had just pushed it there.
"I'm going to need a little more room here, please," I said. He was scowling, and I'm no fool. My 15 years as a columnist has taught me that when an angry man thinks he's going to take you on in public, it's best to start out pretending you don't notice.
"Re-e-e-ally," he said. The woman standing next to him put her hand on his arm and said, softly, "Dan."
He didn't move, so I did, sliding a few inches to my right. It's best, in these postelection times, not to escalate things with a man who thinks he has permission now to throw his weight around like a slab of cured beef.
The cashier handed back my license and said, "Thank you, Ms. Schultz."
"I told you that was her," the man said.
Here we go.
I tucked the license into my wallet.
"Did you just say 'f—- you'?"
Our scowling he-man, back at it.
I returned the cashier's nervous smile and then looked at him. "I'm sorry?"
"You heard me," he said. "You just said 'f—- you' to me."
I assured him that I had not.
"Oh, yeah," he said more loudly. "I heard you." He waved his arm around him. "I'm sure everyone here heard you tell me, 'F—- you.'"
I did the only thing I could think of in the moment. I pulled out my camera, aimed it at him, swiped and tapped the screen. "Keep talking," I said.
He hesitated. "Put the camera down."
"Dan," the woman said, her voice trembling now.
"Keep talking," I said again.
He stopped talking. And that was that.
Only after I had walked to the car and checked for the video did I realize that I had tapped not the camera app but the one for Google Maps.
Oh well. Look, we're all adjusting.
I'm telling you this story not to elicit sympathy. Save that for the poor women who put up with men like him. I'm sharing this because it feels increasingly common, this rage from a small and reckless percentage of angry Americans who apparently got one message from the 2016 election: Permission granted.
I hear these stories from friends and readers on a weekly basis. There's the woman we thought we knew so well who celebrated, out loud and without apology, that her house had just sold to white people. The parent in the bleachers who yelled in the middle of a game that his son's all-white team shouldn't have to put up with a black coach ordering the kids around. When another parent objected, the father quipped, "We don't have to take it anymore."
The ugly part of my reader mail, always an adventure, has become increasingly dark. Ron thinks I'm a "despicable American" who "probably can't even keep a husband." I've been married to my husband for 14 years now. He's still smiling, too.
Thom ended his note with this: "I hope one of these illegals (that got away from Sheriff Joe) rape a fat, Ohioan lesbian ... like you!" The ellipsis was his, and I'd love to know what he thought he was leaving out.
John worries, "Some liberal politician will suggest that Obama's bust be put on Mr. Rushmore with the other 3 greats, and no politician will object for fear of being called a racist. Bet on it."
I don't know who Mr. Rushmore is, but I do know there are four, not three, presidential faces staring out from the mountain of the same name. He said "greats," so maybe he objects to one of them. It's Lincoln, the freer of slaves. Bet on it.
There's another reason I'm sharing these stories, and it has to do with all of you who would never dream of talking to, or about, another human being in such ways. If you're feeling a dark shift in our country's equilibrium, I want you to know two things:
You're not imagining it.
And you're not alone.
The majority of Americans are still good people. I believe that to the marrow of my bones, and I deal with the American public just about every day, all day long.
We have to embolden one another. It's time.
So, take heart and speak out.
And do practice tapping the camera app on your phone.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.