Adventures Family Home improvement

Line starts where?

It was one of those rare moments when all three legs of the modern shopping experience stool played nicely together – clerk, customer and clueless customer who maybe doesn’t quite have the grasp of lines.

To further that reach of an analogy, when someone cuts in line at a store, that person is usually the wobbly leg that makes the stool useless. However, at other times, the other two can contribute to ineffectiveness, either via angry lashing out customer or by inattentive clerk who allows the indiscretion to happen, thus rewarding the line cutter for what I would argue should be at minimum a capital federal offense.

It happened the other day at my friendly neighborhood home improvement store. I was there to return an item and then to pick up food for my squirrel feeder. (Yes, squirrel feeder. And it looks identical to a bird feeder and takes the same seeds. Years ago, my father told me that if you call it a squirrel feeder, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when birds appear. It’s kept him from being upset when squirrels invaded his bird feeders, and I’ve found it works well for me. Plus, squirrels are kinda fun to watch.)

I stood in line at the return counter. There were three clerks at work in front of me, each assisting someone with returns. The woman directly in front of me had a cart with two grills in it. I have never found the need to buy two grills at once, so I can only assume her reason for returning them is she had actually bought three, only to later realize she only needed one.

As I stood patiently in line, a woman carrying a window air conditioner unit stepped in front of me. She nodded at the cart loaded with grills. “Is this yours?” she said.

I figured that she was looking to find a place to set the AC, as it seemed a bit heavy.

“No,” I said.

“OK,” she said, and proceeded to turn and face the counter, standing right in front of me. At that point, I suppose I could have become that other wobbly stool leg and been rude and explained to the woman that she had cut in line and that she could either get to the back of the line or we could step outside and settle this like we were in 10th grade.

Alas, I’m not exactly the public-throw-down kinda guy, so I just kinda shrugged and added a few minutes to my potential wait. Pick your battles.

At that point, a clerk emerged from behind the desk. Very politely, she said, “Ma’am, the line begins behind that gentleman.” I looked behind me, only to see no one. I realized she was referring to me. Gentleman. I laughed.

The woman said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I asked if he was in line…”

Feeling this would be an OK time to join the conversation about me, I said, “Actually, you asked if that cart was mine. It’s not.”

“Well, my interpretation was that if it’s not your cart you’re not in line.”

Again, I didn’t feel like this was the hill to die on. I shrugged again. And the woman said, “So I see how that wasn’t clear on my part. I’m sorry.” And she took a few steps behind me. The stool legs were strong and sturdy.

A few moments later, I was at the counter. AC woman got to her place at the counter within 15 seconds of that, so it was pretty much a wash in terms of wait time.

In the end, we were both in and out in short order, and no one had to rear back and show their inner ugly to all those gathered. Perhaps it’s a good lesson in life. Just take a deep breath and shrug, and sometimes things just work out. And you can get home to enjoy your squirrel feeders.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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