It’s a goddamn Nazi, I cursed under my breath, but thinking about it now nearly five hours ‘after the fact’, I suppose that was something of a rush to judgement.
I mean: is somebody a Nazi simply because they have a swastika tattooed on the back of their hand?
Yet saying that, the more people I tell about this, the more uneasy I feel that I didn’t spit in the guy’s face the moment he’d scanned by club card and gave me green points for using my own plastic bags. The first person I told was about Tesco’s Nazi Checkout Guy was as outraged as the second person I told. The third person I told was probably more outraged the first two and suggested a course of action that would have resulted in an upturned carton of milk, a misuse of nearly ripe fruit, and the unhygienic use of my Linda McCartney sausage rolls when they were still frozen (painful).
But for my part, I don’t know how to feel. I glimpsed the tattoo as the checkout assistant slid me my crispy white baguette and there, for a moment, I saw a tableau of European history played out under the glare of the laser scanner.
‘Your lot would refuse me that,’ I might have said, pointing to the French bread. But I didn’t and now I regret that I didn’t.
Yet I can’t even be sure which way the swastika was facing. Perhaps it was the Hindu or Buddhist swastika and the guy (white and middle aged) was a devoted follower of Eastern mysticism who had one day decided to tattoo the symbol of auspiciousness above his knuckles. What if he’s a devoted pacifist who is now damned to be misjudged as some kind of fascist thug?
Yet, as people keep saying to me, in bold (dare I say capitalized letters): WHAT THE HELL ARE TESCO DOING HIRING A GUY WITH A SWASTIKA TATTOOED ON THE BACK OF HIS HAND?
Well, I glibly reply, at least it wasn’t on his forehead, a la, Charles Manson.
That’s one thing I always like to credit Tesco with: at least they don’t hire mass murdering leaders of neo-fascist cults. I mean, they do have their standards…
The more I think about this, the harder it is to make a moral judgement even as I feel it should really become easier. Even if it was only a tiny swastika, it was still a swastika and probably not a Hindu swastika. How can I rationalise beyond that?
Well, I could point out that he was polite and very helpful. That’s what my gentler, calmer self would say. Even Tesco, otherwise rapacious and uncaring as they’ve been in every dealing with me, probably wouldn’t tolerate a baton- wielding jackbooted anti-Semite behind their tills.
Yet another part of me screams: but it’s a Swastika!
So, should I contact The Guardian? The Anti Fascist League? Should I demand that everybody stop visiting Tesco until they promise to stop hiring aging members of the National Front?
It that an overreaction or is it an under-reaction?
I asked my friends: what if he’s an reformed fascist being misjudged by a tattoo he now regrets? Would you want to lose the guy his job because of that? What if he’s got kids?
Well, my friends tell me, he could have got the tattoo replaced with something else. And I suppose they’re right. We have more tattoo parlors in town that we have book shops by a factor of approximately 1 to infinity. (5 tattoo parlors. 0 bookshops). How difficult would it be to get something less offensive tattooed there? And, frankly, anything would be less offensive. I mean, think of the sickest vilest thing you could imagine and picture it on the back of a hand. Even that would be less offensive than a swastika.
So I guess my friends are right and it leaves me with a moral problem.
What would you do if somebody unveiled a swastika whilst handling your low-fat cheese? Do I have an obligation to make something out of this? People tell me that I do and that I should. But why me? Other people must see the swastika and think the same. Does nobody really care?
And that, I suppose, is the real question. Not just of this story but of every story that’s out there. People care when it’s something as novel, fun, celebrity-based as an ice bucket challenge. How many people would look at the hand, fingering their Eat Me Keep Me bananas, and associate it with the death of six million Jews in concentration camps, approximately 60 million people across the world or 2.5% of the Earth’s population?
People care when something impacts directly on their family or their way of life. People care about fuel duty and iPhones that bend in their pockets. Many people don’t really care when local services are cut to people too poor to defend themselves. They don’t really care about much that’s not the shape of an icon or beyond the reach of their thumb. Would anybody really make a fuss about a symbol of a very human evil that occurred over half a century ago?
Should I care that my local Tesco have hired a Nazi sympathizer. Does the guy deserve to earn a living? Times are hard. Would anybody want to see somebody lose their job?
But, hell… Even if it was tiny and badly self-tattooed. It was a swastika. And in the words of the great wartime academic, Dr. I. Jones: ‘Nazis… I hate these guys.’