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Friday, December 07, 2007

Hurry Up And Wait: Part 1


Worth fighting and dying for.


The Spanish have their own system for waiting in lines; something that is required a lot here. When you walk up to the crowd waiting in the post office or at the butcher you ask, “¿El ultimo?” The last person in line will let you know who he or she is and then you are the new Ășltimo, or the last one.

I have found that the most aggressive line jumpers are female senior citizens. These golden girls will make every attempt to wiggle around your rightful place in the queue and then act like they didn’t notice you when you call them on it. It certainly doesn’t pay to be shy when you are standing in line although there’s no point in losing your manners. I make a point of being firm yet polite, and I always take my large pocket knife out of my backpack and clean my fingernails while still keeping a watchful eye on my place in line.

I have never been forced to toss a Spanish grandmother to the ground with a violent judo throw, not yet. I like to keep the threat of a couple of my more effective martial arts techniques out there on the table, just to keep things honest. I would probably feel bad about slamming an old woman to the ground in front of the market vegetable stall and crushing her like a bag of dried and rotten sticks, but I didn’t write the rules to defending one’s place in line. I also don’t want to be taken advantage of just because I have an accent.

I was waiting to buy olives the other day and had already spent about ten minutes behind a guy who was buying some sort of dried fish thing. Had I been less tired or in a better humor I would have asked him what the hell he was buying and if it was intended for human consumption. Instead I waited as patiently as I could. All I wanted was a small bag of cracked olives. The olives at this stall are well worth even a ridiculously long wait. Another guy came up and asked me if I was “the last.” A minute later an old woman shuffled up pushing her grocery cart and asked who was last. The guy behind me answered and she immediately started in on a story about how she was in a hurry and if she could please move in front of him in line. He quickly and deftly passed the buck to me, directing her to ask me for my place in line. What a coward! I could see that my turn was coming up because the guy in front of me was paying.

I am as polite and gentlemanly as the next guy and I was almost going to let her go in front of me until I realized the archetype I was up against in this battle. I have had the misfortune of being behind women like her and watched as they take more time to order a couple of pork chops as it would take me to remodel a large kitchen. I hesitated a moment and then turned to the merchant and ordered my bag of olives. I wanted to tell granny that I didn’t fall off the turnip truck this morning, but instead I just let out a non-apologetic, “Hasta luego,” as I laid down the exact change for my olives and got the hell out of there.

I realize this isn’t exactly the most harrowing tale you will ever come across but you didn’t see the look of complete evil in this octogenarian’s eyes as I did. The devil in sensible shoes and support stockings. Dogs aren’t allowed inside the market but you never know if one of these golden girls has a West Highland terrier stuffed in her cart ready at a moment’s notice to rip your throat out on her orders. I was victorious on this occasion but how long can my luck hold out? Every day I avoid death is a gift.

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