A calm, clear day. High noon. I pull into a space in the Subway parking lot, next to a crookedly parked Lincoln. A young man pulls into the space on the other side of me.
We both get out of our cars. We eye each other.
A moment passes. No noise except for the passing traffic along the highway. His fingertips twitch. I narrow my eyes against the gleaming sun, baring my front teeth.
Then, a car backfires. In a flash, the young man bolts for the Subway entrance. I start running, too. My legs are longer, so even though he got a head start, I have a slight edge. I’m two steps ahead of him when we reach the door.
But he trips me. I stumble, landing hard against the wall. The young man pulls open the door and dashes inside. He grabs an old lady by the collar and throws her to the floor, to beat her in line.
I dust myself off and join the line, taking my place behind the young man. I’m careful to step over the old woman, who’s lying on the floor, moaning.
The young man is wearing a triumphant grin. I bow my head in abject defeat. Even though I was clearly fouled, I’ve lost this round. This is a game with few rules, and once you’ve lost your place in line, it’s over. There are no instant-replays in this situation; no referees to dispense justice. It’s a mad dash to reach the line — and in this instance, I lost.
The server behind the counter asks the young man what he’d like.
“I’m ordering for the office,” he says. He reaches into his pocket and unfurls a scroll. “Try to keep up, sweetheart. I’m only going to say these once. The first sandwich will be on white, no mayonnaise, with turkey, ham and Swiss cheese. No oil, no vinegar, but add cucumbers. Sandwich number two—”
“You miserable, conniving son of a bitch!” I scream. I dive-tackle the young man. We both crash to the floor, knocking over a table where a couple is sitting. Lettuce, ice cubes and soda rain on the floor.
The young man grabs a wheat roll from the floor and shoves it in my mouth. It’s as if he knows my weakness, because I instinctively gag from my gluten intolerance. He seizes the opportunity to smear a dollop of mustard in my eyes, as well as to cram the roll farther into my mouth. I scream, both from the burning in my eyes and the unanticipated carbohydrates.
The young man leaps to his feat. He stomps on my fingertips and gives me a swift kick in the stomach. The roll pops from my mouth and strikes him in the face. He stumbles backward, his arms flailing.
I jump up and grab him. But as I do, I slip on a wrapper. I struggle for balance, holding the guy’s shirt. The momentum carries us across the store, and we crash through the front window, landing hard on the sidewalk. Glass showers upon us — as well as the neon “open” sign, which hits me in the head. The lights go off. (The neon light, I mean; not my consciousness. Although I am a bit woozy … but that’s probably more from hunger than from the bump on my head. After all, it is lunchtime, and I haven’t yet eaten.)
“Help!” the clerk screams from inside. “Someone, please help! He never told me what to put on the second sandwich!”
I grab the young man by the hair. “You smug bastard! How dare you cut ahead of me when you have so many orders!”
“I was in line first,” the young man says, struggling.
“But you’re ordering for the office!” I yell, trying to keep him pinned down. “You should have phoned it in!”
“You don’t have to phone in multiple orders!” he screams, thrashing. “There’s no rule!”
“It’s common decency!” I yell. “I’m only ordering for myself. You should have let me go ahead.”
“How would I know you’re only ordering for yourself?” the young man says. “You never said anything. For all I know, you could be ordering for the office, too.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Besides, if I were ordering for the office, I’d phone it in ahead of time, because I’m a considerate person. You, on the other hand, are a miserable bag of puke!”
I pull back my arm and slug him in the face. The guy winces, then gives me an unexpected elbow to the jaw. I yelp, my head knocked backward.
A police cruiser screeches to a halt in front of the store. An officer grabs us each by the collar.
“What’s going on here?” he demands.
I spit a wad of bloody phlegm onto the sidewalk. “This jerk cut ahead of me and tried to order a dozen sandwiches!”
“Liar!” the young man screams. “I beat you fair and square. And I was only going to order seven sandwiches and a salad for Nancy. I work in a small office.”
“Who’s Nancy?” the cop growls.
“Nancy’s the receptionist,” the young man says. “She’s on the Atkins Diet, so she can’t eat bread.”
“Who cares who Nancy is?” I say. “You bastard! You’re a line-cutter!”
“Yeah?” the young man says, lunging for me. “You’re a — a — a soda drinker!”
“Only diet!” I yell, lunging back. “I’m making a good-faith attempt to lose weight!”
The cop tears us apart. “Both of you, get out of here. I’d take you in, but it’s my lunch break, and I’m craving a toasted meatball sub.”
“But where am I supposed to eat?” the young man says. “I’ve got seven hungry people at the office who are depending on me. I’m completing an internship, and if I come back empty-handed, I won’t get my credits!”
“There’s a Wendy’s down the street,” the cop says. “You can eat there, for all I care. I just want you out of my sight before I change my mind and take you both in. And I’m not a nice person when I’m hungry, so if I were you, I’d take my advice and scram.”
Both the young man and I stare at the Wendy’s, which is a few blocks down the street on the opposite side of the highway. We turn to each other, and our eyes lock.
And in a flash, we’re dashing for our cars. We both screech out of the parking lot and barrel down the highway, neck in neck.
The young man guns his car, and for a second I think he’s going to get ahead. His car is a lot newer, and stronger.
But then an old woman in a Lincoln pulls out of a Walgreens parking lot, cutting the young man off. At least, I assume it’s an old woman. All I can make out is a tuft of white hair and two knuckles on the wheel. She putts along at 10 mph in a 45-zone — so clearly, she’s a Reno native.
The young man slams on his brakes, and I fly ahead, racing toward the Wendy’s. I pull into the lot and enter the drive-through. A moment later, the young man screeches to a standstill behind me.
I raise my middle finger, wagging it in the rearview mirror. The young man bows his head in abject defeat.
After all, this is a game with few rules, and once you’ve lost your place in line, it’s over. There are no instant-replays in this situation; no referees to dispense justice. It’s a mad dash to reach the line — and in this instance, I emerged victorious. Finally.
To celebrate, I ordered a Baconator with an extra-large side of fries. (Although, truth be told, I would have much preferred a toasted meatball sub. But only because I’m making a good-faith attempt to lose weight.)