Complaint Box | Me First!

P. C. Vey

Complaint Box
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I have this theory to explain why Woody Allen doesn’t make movies in Manhattan anymore: He decided that New Yorkers had crossed the line.

Take the woman at the Fairway bakery counter, the one holding the bread to be sliced. I’m waiting my turn, and she steps right up and hands over her loaf.

Me: “Didn’t you see me standing here?”

Woman With Bread: “I was here first.”

She accurately reads dubiousness on my face.

WWB: “I didn’t see you.”

Me: Still dubious.

WWB: “I’m very sorry. I’m too much in my head to pay attention.” She reluctantly backs off.

Me: “That’s all right.”

I felt I had to say it was all right. But of course, it wasn’t. The line used to be absolute. But now, it’s … porous. These people must be kept in line. Specifically, at the end of it.

Other recent examples:

At the library: “I was already here. They couldn’t find my book because someone put it back on the shelf.”

At the bank: “I was already here. I had to take my child to the bathroom.”

Soon it will be: “I was already here. I just had to grab a Shake Shack burger, renew my driver’s license and hop the ferry to Liberty Island and back.”

There’s a reason every line has an end. It’s there because that’s where you go when more than one person wants the same service at the same time. If you have to leave the line, and then you want to come back, it’s the end of the line for you.

The people who don’t get it, either because they’re thoughtless, distracted or just plain rude, give me two choices. I can let it go because life’s too short, and then I’m a sap. Or I can call them on it, and then I’m Larry David, standing my ground in a losing battle for a lost cause.

There are a few exceptions. If the clerk at the post office — excuse me, when the clerk — has told you to fill out the wrong form, he or she grants you dispensation to come right back up to the window when — excuse me, if — you find the right form. I think that’s a valid opportunity to return to the front of the line with your head held high.

Or if you’re in a supermarket and you forget an item, running back to get it is allowed. One item.

I can’t leave this topic without rapping the knuckles of the third person in every line-breaking equation — the enabler clerk. On the other hand, there should be a special place in heaven for the rare person of authority in this situation who knows that fair is fair. When this angel stands up for justice and says, “Excuse me, sir, there’s a line,” you can almost hear the harps playing from on high.

Allen Mogol is a freelance writer who lives on the Upper West Side.

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