I was not surprised that there was a line all the way around the Trader Joe’s. I live in the neighborhood, I see what happens. I was surprised because the store wasn’t even open yet. Was I there too early, or too late? No time to think about it. I found my slot and lined up.
I was behind a man in a tie-dye shirt that had a heavy-duty mask on, the kind with two plastic puck-shaped filters on the front, the metal band across the back of his head glinting dully in the sun, and soon another guy arrived and took the spot behind me. He had on a t-shirt that said SPACE FORCE. After a few moments, people lined up behind him. It was 8:15. We had forty five minutes to go.
The more people lined up, the better I felt about my spot in line. I was in the perfect spot. The people in front of me were suckers. They weren’t going to get into the store any earlier than I was. The people behind me were assholes. They had no commitment and if the store ran out of Joe-Joe’s before they got in, so be it.
I saw a woman ask another woman in line if that was really the line, then sigh heavily and trudge past us all in shame. My heart swelled with pride. I was achieving, just by being there. That’s right, look at my spot. This is my spot, and it’s delineated by two spray painted lines. I wonder if we’ll need them long enough to touch them up, or whether a year from now, they’ll fade into the tarmac, as the urgency and panic of this time fades in our minds.
Time passed. I did squats, trying to impress the guy in the Space Force t-shirt. He gave no indication of being impressed. I listened to a podcast. I checked my phone. I sniffed the air. It was heavy with the smell of eucalyptus bouquets and hand sanitizer. It was almost time.
The first movement I saw was the woman two people ahead of me turn the corner. She walked into the shade of the canopies set up along the entrance. How I’d like to be in the shade. It looked so cool and dark under there. I didn’t even care about going to the store any more. I just wanted to be in the shade. The man behind her moved forward, then Filter Mask, then me. We all slid forward carefully in our slots, like a chain of dominoes. The corner spot was open, because there wasn’t enough space for the turn. I heard a sound close by. It was the door to a Honda Accord closing.
I heard her approach before I realized what was happening. She stood near the space between Corner Woman and Man After Corner for a moment, testing her chances. She looked down the line of people waiting in the sun. And she stepped into Corner Spot, which wasn’t really a spot at all. HEY yelled Big Filters. THIS IS A LINE. She turned away from him, shielding her face in the sun. It’s true, masks make anonymity and boldness.
She carried herself like masked Casanova at an orgy- she could have anyone she wanted and none would be the wiser. She’d just blend into the crowd, with her shitty yellow floral top and her shitty curly hair. The woman in front of the corner turned to see what was going on, but she didn’t really care. It was, she thought to herself, no skin off her dick.
But it wasn’t over. Man After Corner tried a gentler approach, explaining to her at a distance that she had broken the rules, the only thing keeping us all from dying in the streets. Again, she turned away, raising her shoulder to him. The line moved forward again, faster. They were letting us all in. We had to make a mob decision, and we had to do it immediately. A woman not too far behind me threw the first stone. It connected to yellow shirt’s head solidly. A moment passed, but only a moment.
A hail of rocks, keys, shopping baskets rained down upon her from all directions. She screamed, trying to protect her head with her hands, but she couldn’t dodge everything. It only lasted a few seconds. She made a dash back to her car, her yellow shirt spotted with blood among the flowers. We heard the opening, then the closing of the door of a Honda Accord. The line erupted in glee, but also it was time to be anointed with hand sanitizer and to enter the Trader Joe’s. My Joe-Joe’s would never again taste as sweet as they did this day.