So there I am, walking into my local “Eat Chicken Now” restaurant, when I spot him. He is wandering around sort of in the vicinity of the counter where you order, squinting at the menu board above. He’s wearing wrinkled khakis and a navy blue blazer. At first, I’m not sure it’s him—I haven’t seen him in a while—so I ask him, “Sir, are you in line?”
He turns to face me, startled. I realize, yes, yes, it’s definitely him. “I am in line,” he says politely. “I’m next.”
I am face to face with Mr. I-Stand-Too-Far-Back-When-I’m-In-Line. I used to see him a lot when I was a flight attendant. There I’d be at the airport Starbucks, getting ready to order my triple latte when he would walk up and tap me on the shoulder. “You just cut in front of me,” he’d say accusingly.
Huh? What? I’d think. Where the heck did you just come from? And if you were in line, why were you standing 15 feet back, way over there?
(I’ve met his cousin once or twice, usually at line at the movies. Her name is Miss I-Stand-Too-Close-To-Other-People. She likes to pretend she might kiss the back of your neck at any moment, or at least pick stray hairs off your sweater for you.)
So. Back to “Eat Chicken Now.” I say, “Oh, okay,” and then get behind him in line (if you can even call it that, we are practically pressed back by the newspaper machine about a million miles from the actual register).
You know what happens next. Of course you do. The thing I feared. Two teenage girls walk in, ignore me and my buddy I-Stand-Too-Far-Back (we are on a first name basis now), and waltz right up to the register. The teenagers are ready to place their order and are completely oblivious to the fact that we have been waiting.
On cue, my buddy walks up to the girls and says, “Uh, I was over here waiting.” The girl wearing ripped tights looks embarrassed. The other girl, with a visible tattoo of a green snake on her neck, looks ready to pick a fight. I am wondering which one is going to win.
“Oops, I’m sorry!” giggles Embarrassed Girl, “I guess we didn’t see you.”
Fight Girl looks him up and down and says, “Really? You were waiting in line? Dude,” (yes she called him dude and right then I am wishing my cell phone could make short movies, or if it can, that I knew how to use that function), “then why were you way over there? Do you need glasses or something?”
Embarrassed Girl laughs nervously. My jaw has dropped to the ground. I am exhilarated to find out what will happen next, almost like I am watching a play or TV, and I'm forgetting that I'm right there in the center of the action.
Fight Girl turns to me. It is becoming immediately clear that she thinks Stand-Back and I are together (husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, something). “Why are you and he standing so far away from the register? Do you have, like, the flu or something?”
I am weighing my options. She has given me an out (the flu)—I could start pretending to sneeze or cough (ironically enough, the identical strategy I employ when confronted with Miss I-Stand-Too-Close). Before I have a chance to say anything, my buddy throws me under the bus:
“I’m not with her!” (said with such contempt that it seems I have stolen his parking place or possibly run over his cat), “I have no idea why she is standing this far away from the register.”
I am so flabbergasted and flummoxed by this unexpected turn of events that I do the only thing I can: I cut in front of everyone and place my order. To go.
(“Mayonnaise On Viennoiserie”)