We interrupt my journey into adolescence for another entry of the Life in These United States (or, at least, Berkeley) variety. I was thinking of it for BSR, but Adele didn’t think it developed enough. So until I decide to try again, here it is:
The Wheeze Board’s line began outside. It ran the store’s length, past the cheese counter, to the bread trays in the rear, then u-turned toward the cash registers in the front. I inched toward the baguettes. A man, early 60s, glasses, camouflage jacket, briskly walked to the trays and made his selection.
I stepped from line. I tapped his shoulder and pointed.
“What?” he said.
“He’s fine,” a woman, mid-40s, UC sweatshirt, said. She was not his wife. They were not together. But her – and his – point was that, once he had his bread, he would join the line and pay. Which – okay – but it still meant he would beat more patient people, like me, to their selections.
I returned to my place. Except the line had closed and moved on. My place was no longer apparent, and the woman, hair in a white pony tail, small dog in a shoulder bag, ahead of whom I attempted to step, refused me entry. Her point was I could not have been ahead of her because she had been waiting a long time. My point was I had to have been ahead of her because I was in line when someone had told her there was a line to wait in. Her point was it was absurd to make an issue of something so trivial. My point was then why not move behind me. Her point was it was demeaning for her to be even arguing about bread. By then I had realized that (a) she had also raced ahead to select her bread before joining the line and (b) no one, including the breadless, whose rights I had sought to protect from the camouflaged man, had rallied behind me.
I was feeling someone like Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” especially after the cashier answered my hypothetical by affirming my interpretation of proper etiquette. But, she explained, on days the store is crowded, some people feel they need not abide by it. Why the store did not enforce its policy… Well, some would say, that is Berkeley for you. I might say that too, except that every morning, when I arrive at the Wrench Café, I drop my bag on the available table I most prefer. Only then, no matter the length of the line, do I join it to order my espresso, which, not so many years ago, is also behavior to which I would have objected.
So maybe that first-stone-cast advising fellow had a point.