It used to be Napa and Marin — counties historically assailed for propagating cultures of entitlement, privilege and general snobbery — that bred expectations of social superiority among the chattering classes. Turns out, there’s a homemade breed which, to the awesome chagrin of a score of patrons at El Dorado Kitchenette one recent morning, made itself woefully apparent.
A middle-aged woman juggling a cell phone, a half-hearted conversation with some sister-in-arms and an order that could caffeinate an infantry, managed to not only change her order twice in mid-stream (swapping muffins for cinnamon rolls and back again due to the apparently offensive discovery of raisins), she single-handedly stalled the queue such that it swelled out the door as a beleaguered staff swarmed and tried vainly to accommodate her ever-changing whims.
Even the village weirdo rolled his eyes (you know who you are) as the woman continued her endless order. And the baristas! Those poor, bedraggled young people – heroes, really – who sallied-forth, smiles embroidered upon faces once aglow with youth and the possibilities of life, washed away by this upper-middleclass sea serpent having a slash from upstream the economic estuary.
The man behind me opened his balled fist to sweep away the sweat accruing on his brow as he muttered something about justifiable homicide. The parking police, who otherwise could have cleaned up while we waited past our two-hour allotments, eased their vigilance from empathy.
A montage of calendar pages blown by the Winds of Time fell to the floor in heaps of temporal torpor. The estate of Jean Paul Sartre considered suing for what appeared an unauthorized staging of “No Exit.” Reflecting on the patience of Job was a momentary comfort until we realized he’d probably have renounced God and popped off to 7-11 for a flavored coffee an eon earlier.
And still, this awful Sonoman (yes, sadly, a Sonoman) would not quit.
Were she simply oblivious, we could at least marvel at her self-absorption – a perfect feed loop of reflection and exaltation at the exaltation of her reflection; the “mirror, mirror” on the wall slipped atop a photocopier, a video camera pointed at the TV. At some point, the snake eating its own tail must also eat its own crap, right? Theoretically, yes, but only after eating all the pastries at EDK.
Those of us (still) in line were shocked, having only witnessed such abhorrent, selfish behavior in comic portrayals of our neighbors to the east and south – and those, I realized were exaggerated. This woman’s attitude was neither Napanese nor Marinite – it was some vile hybrid, some hellish affliction likely born of Nazi science.
And this I learned: The customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer is so bloody wrong that the rest of us can only look on in dumbfounded fury, paralyzed by useless etiquette and the sinking feeling that our species has camouflaged its devolution with mobile phones and trips to the outlet mall. Survival of the specious.
I suppose moments like this are like watching zoo animals mate in captivity. It’s simultaneously comic and alarming when beasts enact the will of nature, which, naturally, highlights our own clumsy attempts to distinguish ourselves as something other than selfish animals. Of course, we can’t all be bonobos, though that would certainly make the coffee line at EDK more interesting and, in some cases, faster. We can only stand erect (that’s “upright” you filthy buggers), groping up the food chain toward the civil transaction of brown water from one primate to another. That is, if there is any left.