Monday, May 15, 2017


I saw my friends Sasha and Elena yesterday. Sasha was still celebrating his acquisition of an unusual English word, kerfuffle. He and I understand the word the same way. It’s about a disagreement that gets a little tense. I had one of those today.

I went down to the neighborhood bread store to get myself half a loaf of fresh bread (for about 32¢) and some snack stuff. Until maybe a year ago, everybody at this store queued up at the register of their choice and hoped they’d chosen a good line. But after a renovation and reconfiguration of the store, the space got so narrow that people started lining up in one long line and people at the front of the line split off to whichever register is free first. We all know it works better.

I noticed this transition taking place during the winter. Most people waited patiently in one line, but a few people would remember the old system and barge in front at the register farther from the queue. This usually resulted in a collapse of the new system and other people would add themselves to the newly-formed (and shorter) queue for the second cashier. It happened often enough that I didn’t feel bad about joining the disorder at that time, but now people are quite conscientious and cooperative about occupying a single line and letting the person who waited longest go to the first available cashier. I’ve been reformed, and always wait with everybody else.

Today, a man and his wife passed an unusually-long line in order to install themselves at the second register, immediately behind the person finishing her transaction. I tapped the man on the shoulder and told him that we’re occupying a single line and indicated the lengthy queue behind me. The people behind me looked like they wanted him to understand that they felt the same way.

The man replied that he’s been shopping here all his life and he knows how things work.

I replied that things change. I too remember the way it used to be, but the store is different now.

He congratulated me for remembering the old store, but went on to explain that he was born here and really knew how things worked.

I turned to the people behind me and said, “I tried.” They thanked me quietly, but nobody else spoke up to the couple. The line jumpers left the store just after me, as I was gathering my gym bag from a locker in the entryway. With a great show of graciousness, I opened the door for them and welcomed them. The lady behind them, who had been first behind me in the line, acted both amused and delighted.

Emboldened, I pressed my case as we walked down the sidewalk, encouraging the couple as kindly as I could to notice how the other people in the store were behaving. He bristled, returned to his refrain about his birthright and, basically, told me to shove off.

That, my friends, is a kerfuffle.

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