Tag Archives: line

Just admit that you still feel it

One time I was in line getting a cup of coffee. These two guys in front of me were having this conversation about how one of them was about to go spend a semester at sea. So there were a lot of questions back and forth, like what kind of stuff are you going to bring, how big is the ship you’re going to be on, questions like that. And then they got their coffees and left.

And then it was my turn to order coffee, and as I stood there and waited for the barista to make my drink, this guy to my back tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know, I spent some time at sea.”

Usually I’d at least respond, maybe with a, “Really?” or some sort of acknowledgment. But this stuff always happens to me. People start talking to me about random stuff while I’m waiting on line. And I could see where this was going. He’d get into a crazy story about life on the high seas, I’d probably have a lot of questions, I’d wind up staying and talking to this guy a lot longer than I ever really wanted to.

So I looked at him and said, “Yeah man, well I lived on a boat for five years. A really small boat. It was just me and the ocean. Just me and this really tiny boat.”

And he looked at me and said, “OK man, way to make everything about you.”

I said, “Excuse me?”

“Yeah man, I hate it when people do that. When I start to tell a story, and someone else just has to butt in with their own story. You could have at least heard me out first.”

And now I was already putting milk into my coffee. I should have been gone, that should have been it. But here I was, still standing here. Obviously my attempt to pivot out of the conversation hadn’t worked out. But why should it have? I could have started talking about basketball. That would have been a nice pivot, something that didn’t have anything to do with the sea. But now I wasn’t even talking to this guy about the ocean or boats. I was getting scolded for poor conversation.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I just get really emotional when people start talking about the sea.”

“I hear you, brother.”

Jesus Christ I could not shake this guy. Now he was nodding in sympathy, patting me on the back, and what was with all of that brother business? I’m not this guy’s brother. I’ve never been on a boat for more than two hours at a time.

“Did you feel it?” he asked.

“Did I feel what?”

“When you were alone out there, did you feel it call out to you?”

“I don’t get it.”

“Sure you do. The ocean. The eternal sea. The abyss.”

“Listen, I think you have the wrong idea.”

“I don’t. Not many people know what we’ve been through, you and I. I know you felt it.”

This had to have been the worst conversation pivot in the history of small-talk. I felt like anything I threw at this guy, he caught it, turned it into something even weirder to say right back to me.

I tried to pivot toward the truth, “OK, look, I’ve never been out to sea. I just said that before. I’m really sorry. I didn’t know how to react when you told me you spent time at sea, and so I just made something up. I don’t know why I did it. It obviously wasn’t cool of me to lead you on like that. But I really have to go, OK? I just came in for a cup of coffee, and now I have to leave. So goodbye.”

And I started toward the door, but he just followed me. I didn’t want to exit now. I didn’t want him to find out what direction I was walking in, or where I lived. So I stopped.

He got uncomfortably close and said, “Now I know you still feel it.”

I took another step. He took the same step.

“Come on man,” I said, “I really have to go.”

“So go.”

“Are you going to leave me alone?”

“Just admit that you felt it.”


“The sea. Tell me that you still feel it.”

“OK, fine, I still feel it.”

He just smiled.

And then I opened the door and started walking. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was following me maybe. That psycho. So I walked way out of the way, and then I got on the subway and took it two stops toward the city. And then I got out and took a cab back to my house.

Forced conversation while waiting in line

I was in line at a Starbucks when this guy to my back started chatting me up about raw sugar. “It’s so much better than the processed white stuff,” was his gist, and I just kind of nodded, making sure to smile so as to maintain a base level of a friendly enough disposition, but without responding to anything more than, “Oh yeah?” and, “huh.”


It’s like, you find yourself in a situation like that, where you’re in line, where you’re dealing with an unknown variable introduced into your fixed amount of time spent waiting, there aren’t too many options. Of course, you could just leave, just make an abrupt exit. That would certainly be the easiest way of not having to address that variable.

But then you wouldn’t have your coffee, and that’s why you’re standing in line in the first place. And so, bound to the fact that there’s nothing that you can really do for the foreseeable future, you’ve either got to engage this unknown, or ignore it. There’s potential for danger in either situation.

Some people don’t like being ignored. If someone says something to you, and you don’t respond back, you’re sending your own message, not interested, back off. Assuming you’re not dealing with a total psycho, at the very minimum, the rest of that wait is going to be awkward, regardless of how cool you try to play things off.

But if you decide to engage, how far should you insert yourself into the conversation? My tactic is always to do what I did above, to just kind of not commit to anything. “Yes, I hear you. I acknowledge that you are saying something to me,” is the underlying message of anything coming out of my mouth. And even this doesn’t always work, depending on how aggressive the other person is in pushing his or her point of view.

In the case of processed vs. raw sugars, I could just tell that this guy had an agenda. And the fact that he wasn’t afraid to start hurling his opinions on a random stranger in line at a coffee shop made me assume that he’d have no problem exploring the boundaries of just how far this interaction could go.

But my very passive contributions seemed to have worked, and after a while this guy started bothering someone else. “Hey man, can you believe how much post-consumer waste just winds up choking our local ecosystems?”

When he got to the barista, I could hear him making sure to specify his preference in raw sugar over the white stuff. “I don’t want that toxic crap anywhere near my latte.” And the barista was like, “Sir, unless you want a flavored syrup, all of the sweeteners are at the counter behind you, right next to the milk and napkins.”

And I’d been listening to this guy for a lot longer than I wanted to. Again, I didn’t have a choice in the matter, not if I wanted my coffee. Still, a big part of me wanted to be like, “All right man, we get it, you don’t like processed sugars. But what the hell dude? You’ve never been to a Starbucks before? You don’t know about the sugar packets on the counter to the back? Come on man, cut the act, all right? Make your own hippie coffee at home, because this place is about as industrialized as a cup of coffee gets.”

But of course I didn’t say that, because that would have only extended my forced coexistence with this bozo for a potentially really long amount of time. And I didn’t want that. I wanted my coffee. And then I wanted out.

Just count to five

I was out getting some pizza for lunch. The guy gave me my slices, I paid, took a few steps toward the door and then thought, wait a second, I should have bought a soda. So I took a step back toward the counter, but the pizza guy was facing the other direction, he was standing by the oven, having a conversation with one of his coworkers.


I was really hungry, and I wanted to get home and eat that pizza as soon as possible, but I didn’t want to be a jerk. Still, one second turned into two seconds, and I began to fear that I might be stuck there in pizza counter limbo, my food getting cold, nobody realizing that I hadn’t actually left the building, that I was still standing there, patiently waiting to be noticed, just a soda, please, I’ll be on my way.

By the third or fourth second, I remembered this one time I was at a bagel shop on Long Island. There were maybe four or five people ahead of me in line, but the guy right in front of me, you could just tell he wasn’t in the mood to be waiting, he kept fidgeting, looking around. As soon as the person in front of him paid and walked away, there was this two or three second pause where the cashier didn’t automatically turn his way and ask, “Yes? Next?”

She closed the drawer on the register, she took a bottle of Snapple out from under the counter, and she took a sip. As she was putting the cap back on the bottle, Mr. impatient in front of me, he screams out, “Can I please just get a sesame bagel with butter?” like really nasty, it was a yelling, he yelled out his order, like a total crazy person.

And I have no idea what this guy’s life is like. Maybe he had some sort of a family emergency back home, maybe he needed food in his stomach immediately, it’s pure conjecture. But I don’t know, regardless of whatever it is that you’re going through, I don’t find it ever acceptable to just shout things at people, “You! Give me a bagel!”

She didn’t even say anything. She just got him the bagel, put it in a bag, and he walked out in a huff. It was one of those moments where I really wanted to say something, a, “Take it easy, buddy,” something not too aggressive, but just aggressive enough. But I always get afraid of these random confrontations. It’s like, when I’m at work, I always think, man, if I didn’t have my job to worry about, I’d totally say something to this rude person or that inconsiderate guest. But then I get an opportunity like this in real life, and the moment passes without my having even mustered the courage to do anything.

And I get it, all the time at work, sometimes people have to wait, sometimes people refuse to wait. I think I write this almost every time I mention work or customer service, but you get a certain type of person who sits down and, while you’re in the middle of saying, “Hello!” or, “How’s it going today?” they’ll cut you off and bark out, “Diet Coke. No ice.”

Whenever I complain about stuff like this, or whenever I hear conversations regarding rude customers and their lack of pleasantries, there are always a few sure rebuttals, stuff like, “Well that’s your job,” and, “I’m not paying to be friends with you. I’m paying for a Diet Coke.” Yeah, you’re paying for a soda, you’re paying for a bagel.

And this argument is total bullshit, this idea that because you’re paying, because you are exchanging your money for something, that you don’t have to be nice. Sorry, I don’t mind being polite, but I’m hungry, and it’s my money involved, and so if you don’t like my acting like a dick, I’ll just go ahead and spend my dollar fifty for a bagel somewhere else.

Business is business, and so if push ever did come to shove, if that lady at the bagel place decided to fight back, it would have been a screaming match, the owner would have gotten involved, “Please, sir, I’m so sorry. Please, have this bagel, on the house. We appreciate your business. Please, I beg you, I’ll fire this lady. I value your patronage, don’t leave, here take another bagel, a free dozen.”

Unfortunately, this is the reality of customer service. I’m paying, so even though I shouldn’t be a jerk, I don’t have to not be a jerk. Because I’m paying. If you try to distill every human interaction into a monetary transaction, this is the natural result, where it’s perfectly acceptable to bark out orders or chew out the man or woman behind the counter.

And then the fifth second turned into the sixth second, I snapped out of my daydream at the pizza place, the pizza guy finished his two-sentence conversation and turned around. “What’s up boss, you need anything else?”

“Yeah, can I just get a soda please? Thank you.”

“You got it.”

And I went home, my pizza was still hot. Sure, I think I lost like seven seconds total, and yeah, I guess you can’t really put a price on time. Time is money, right? But everything was cool, I didn’t have to shout out, I didn’t have to interrupt. Everybody just needs to chill out and take a breath. Just count to five, man, just count to ten or eleven.

Assert yourself. Get aggressive.

Sometimes you’ve got to really assert yourself, you’ve got to get really aggressive. Like when you’re on line at the post office, and it’s one of those lines that’s just snaking all the way around the poles, those fabric strips that come out of the poles, is there a name for those things? Line formers? Am I making myself clear here? They use them at airports. Like you’ll be waiting forever to give your passport to the ticket lady so she can take your baggage. But maneuvering around those line formers, with all of your suitcases, and your luggage. Is there a protocol? What’s the protocol? What’s the protocol for when you’re on one of those lines, it’s moving so slowly, and maybe you’re having some trouble getting your two rolling suitcases around the corner, and there’s a guy right behind you, he’s only got a carry-on, and so when you both round the corner, all of the sudden this guy’s standing not behind you, but next to you, and he’s creeping up. Now there’s another turn coming up. Does this guy think he’s going to weasel his way ahead? Just because he’s only got one small bag? And to be perfectly honest, the bag looks a little big, like he probably should be checking it in. And you know you’re going to get on the plane and of course this guy’s going to be sitting right in front of you, and his oversized carry-on, it’s going to take up way too much space in the overhead compartment.

But assert yourself. Get aggressive. At least passive aggressive. As you go to round that second corner, maybe try to block him with one of your rolling bags. Maybe knock over one of the line formers, try to make it look like he knocked it over, and when the airline representative comes over, she’s not saying anything yet, just kind of walking over as a result of the line former falling down, the fabric’s stretching, compromising the integrity of not just this pole, but potentially the entire zigzagged line. And right as she’s about to say something like, “What’s going on here?” you point to that guy, Mr. I’m-Such-A-Great-Packer-I-Don’t-Have-To-Respect-My-Fellow-Line-Waiters, and you say, “He did it.” Watch. That guy’s going to be taking a special trip to the TSA security office.

That guy’s in trouble. That guy might end up on some sort of a problem list. But what about all of these little kids? If you had little kids, you might think to yourself, this would be a lot easier. It might seem harder, having to navigate them plus your luggage plus your kids’ luggage. Think about it, kids are always knocking over those line formers. Or they’re pulling out the fabric. Or they’re jumping under the fabric, back and forth, knocking somebody else’s luggage into a line former, a TSA guy shows up, “I’m sorry sir, you’re going to have to come with us,” every mess these kids make, whoever they bump into, it’s like, “Did you just get knocked into by some kid? Yeah, you’re going to have to come with us.” And then finally after you’ve fended off the carry-on guy – you were very assertive! – you still can’t get your kids to sit still, to just stop running around and wait in line, please. So they stand quiet, for a minute, because you yelled at them, but every time they get to a new line former they silently unclip the fabric and it zips all the way back into the pole. And then you have to try to fix it. And that’s when the airline representative is going to turn on you. It’s unavoidable.

But wasn’t I talking about the post office? It’s all very similar, just no TSA. And I don’t know how your post office is laid out, but at mine there used to be this shortcut line, like if you were just picking up a package, you didn’t have to wait on the general line. But they’ve since done away with that, and now everybody waits. So you’ll be waiting for ten, fifteen, forty-five minutes when you see somebody just head right over to the last window, like pretending that they didn’t know the express line has since been eliminated, and nobody’s saying anything, not a clerk, no other line waiters.

You’ve got to get aggressive. You’ve got to assert yourself into the situation, tell that guy, “Listen buddy, back of the line, all right?” to which he might just kind of look at you, not responding but thinking to himself, “Why don’t you just mind your own business, all right?” So then you repeat yourself. And maybe there’s a postal police officer there, it doesn’t always happen, but they make rounds to the branches every now and then, and he might come over and be like, “What’s the problem?” so you can say something like, “No, I was just asking this guy where he gets his fireworks shipped in from,” and the postal police guy won’t even say anything, he’ll just look at the line cutter and point to that door in the corner, like let’s go have a little chat in that office over there, OK?