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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crossing the Line When it Comes to Public Anger; STAR column

It’s not unusual these days to witness public displays of anger (or PDA’s). Unlike public displays of affection (which range from the sentimental to the exhibitionistic), public temper tantrums are often embarrassing.

Recently I went into a Center City Wendy’s for a bite to eat, but no sooner did I give my order to the young cashier than a woman walked up to me from the far side of the restaurant and said, “You broke in front of the line. You took my place.” Her tone was gruff and challenging.

“I didn’t see you till just now,” I said.

“You broke in the line!” another woman shouted. I looked for the cashier who had waved me forward but suddenly she was conveniently out of sight. “I did not break the line,” I said defensively, feeling like a two year old. “Yes you did,” the first woman said, gearing up for a fight.

Sometimes it’s wise to take the high road and concede defeat rather than risk bodily harm or even death over a take-out baked potato. Still, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could delude themselves into thinking that I had somehow known they were first in line when in fact they were across the room talking to a friend. The cashier, of course, should have intervened since she was the one who waved me forward. In a situation like this, the cashier has all the power. Store managers, it seems, rarely train cashiers in line management techniques.

The psychology of waiting in line, according to Dr. Dick Larson of NPR’s ‘Talk of the Nation,’ “…can be boring and annoying, and it can even lead to queue rage.”

Like road rage, “queuing up” rage is alive and well in the City of Brotherly love, as evidenced by yet another “line” implosion I experienced about a week ago at the local Aramingo Avenue Wawa.

I had gone, as I do most mornings, to purchase a large Hazelnut coffee. On this particular day I headed for the shortest line, vaguely aware of a man in a bandana standing several feet away but with his back to the queue. Because he was equi-distant between two lines as well as a fair distance away, I assumed he was a) debating which line to join, or b) looking at someone or something in the store. It would have been clear to anyone that he was not ready to checkout.

But once my line started to move, the guy jumped behind me with his girlfriend, who seemed to appear from nowhere. He then began talking about rude people who break in front of people.

How could I not speak up? “I thought you were trying to decide which line to join because you were standing so far away,” I said.

My choice of words irked him, so instead of saying “Okay, buddy, no problem,” (at which point I would have given him my place); he simmered like hot volcanic ash. “No, no, no, you are a rude person.”

“You had your back to this line and you were standing way over there,” I said. “Aren’t you being nasty?”

“At least I’m not a girl,” he said loudly.

When Larry King called fellow TV journalist Anderson Cooper a “she,” he was making a joke. The guy in pirate drag, however, was dead serious. My dress that day was a corduroy jacket and tie, which may have some connection to a form of lesbian dress in Kentucky. The truth is, I looked more like a tweedy bookworm than a Barbie Doll although I did manage to run my hand over my chest to indicate its flatness (and non girlishness), before asking him, “What are you talking about?”

“You know,” he sneered, “The gay lifestyle!” His girlfriend, turning a scarlet red, kept her head lowered.

For many men these are fighting’ words. Think of all the barroom brawls, cracked mirrors, smashed egos and chairs; not to mention broken noses and fat lips that have resulted from this classic a Nethanderal challenge. I studied the pirate in disbelief, unsure of what to say other than “Better gay than stupid.” As it turned out, I said nothing, opting instead to switch to another line where I paid for my coffee and then put on my leather gloves, a maneuver that—amazingly—seemed to make him nervous, as if he was expecting me to pull out a revolver and start shooting.

Twenty minutes later, on the 15 trolley, I took comfort in the fact that if I ever had any doubts about my gender in the future, all I had to do was look at the ‘M’ on my Septa transpass.

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