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"I foresee a day when meat might become, for a time, flavoring more than centerpiece entree …"

I really should have paid closer attention through Junior High, for I contend that every life lesson worth learning was woven into that experience, few of them during actual classes. Those years now seem as though they were a perfectly crafted passion play, a junior soap opera with every archetypal character present. Lunchtime seemed especially rich. Each clique would congregate around their table, territorial and exclusive. The sack lunchers segregated from those rich enough to cough up the thirty-five cents for a hot meal. Whatever the class, everyone ended up QueuingUp, waiting 'on' or 'in' line for something. Americans have never been naturally skilled at QueuingUp. Where I come from, line standing was for foreign cultures and big city people. Us small city people might line up for a football game or Forth Of July fireworks, but our daily lives rarely required us to wait for anything. Our heritage seemed to be instant gratification, except for the excruciatingly slow queue in the junior high school lunch room.

The pandemic has popularized QueuingUp like I've never seen.
I understand from stories my folks told that during WWII, lines routinely formed, but afterward, it seemed like society's primary purpose became to never force anyone to ever line up for anything again. We became an instant gratification society, where any desire could be invisibly satisfied from a seemingly infinite inventory. We consequently never learned how to show up just before a store opened to ensure that we could find our purchase inside. The Brits suffered through a decade of rationing after that war. They QueuedUp so frequently that it became an identity. The humbling inconvenience of the blessed forced wait, not knowing if anything would remain once entering the shop, that was the life lesson every British citizen got then. We grew up pansies in comparison.

A deafening outrage accompanies the discovery that not even the toilet paper aisle orbits around my needs. Each visit to each shop imparts a fresh lesson in how to not acquire what you really wanted. One day, milk's absent. Another, the chicken section's thin. The produce department holds what looks like the dregs remaining at the end of an overlong supply chain, every supermarket suddenly seemingly the last stop on the route. My usual standards seem forced to slip as I quietly select some sub-quality something each visit. A line forms outside and entry strictly controlled. A half hour or more in the bright morning sunshine might not have appeared on anyone's shopping list, but almost everyone agrees to put up with it. The line could be worse later.

Yesterday, potting soil was absent from the hardware store. The Muse and I drove ten miles each way to access a store who's online information suggested that they might have some, though it claimed to hold only a very short supply. I found a somewhat acceptable alternative, feeling as though I'd made a genuine killing in the market though I'd bought what I hadn't really wanted. I guess even I'm adapting. The Nursery seemed more orderly as only a dozen or so gardeners were allowed to enter at a time. The line formed outside rather than before the checkout stands inside, the waiting front-loaded. Nobody chatted, as we observed our sacred six-foot distancing. Selection and purchase seemed streamlined, the price of that efficiency a half hour wait outside. QueuingUp's hardly all downside.

The Grateful Bread Company produces the pinnacle of our weekly shopping excursion. Open only between ten and two on Saturdays, visiting has almost always involved QueuingUp. It offered the aroma of fresh baked bread as a consolation prize. Since the pandemic, though, Grateful Bread's been forced to keep their QueuingUp outside rather than in their tight little stairwell and traditionally over-crowded sales floor. One takes a number and waits until a young gentleman calls your number. The wait might stretch into an hour, with loyal customers patiently milling at safe distances in face masks. The operation carries a concert venue vibe, anticipation palpable. Two adjacent distilleries have opened their warehouses to sell sanitizer and cocktails, lending a party sort of atmosphere. I think this newly forced situation far superior to their traditional tactic. The smooth flow of our usual larder stocking disrupted, we linger to really smell the bread now.

I'm learning when to show up to avoid the worst of the QueuingUp. More importantly, I'm learning to pay closer attention to what I really need rather than obsessing on what I might merely want. Wanting seems almost overly needy now, a wasting sensation only sometimes worthy of recognition. Perhaps I'm becoming more disciplined. Last night, we made a soup supper, a meal absent our usual lean meat with two green veg menu. Instead, the pot presented split pea soup, a twenty-four hour background collaboration where I started soaking the peas and slow roasting the stock the night before, and set that hunk of ham hock to render in mid-afternoon, and The Muse fashioned the soffritto and assembled the final pieces. I grilled the Ciabatta while she decanted the minerally Languedoc Rose. I foresee a day when meat might become, for a time, flavoring more than centerpiece entree, and we might find ourselves grateful, as post WWII Brits were, for a half pound of horse flesh classified as fit for human consumption, all served with a healthy portion of QueuingUp first. We no longer simply shop, but catch ourselves QueuingUp instead. There are far worse fates than catching myself enqueued.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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