C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites.
Those of us who meet each weekday morning in the line at the doughnut shop treat one another with kindness and elaborate deference.
If a young woman requires the comfort of a half dozen glazed twists before going off to the purgatory of the steno pool, surely it’s her affair. If a middle-aged journalist prefers to face life with a brain besotted by warm dough, whose business is that?
Sometimes the line stretches out onto the driveway, but we remain orderly. The etiquette of the queue is strictly observed. I cannot say how we would respond if some newcomer, all pushy and brusque, were to try to slip through the doorway and insinuate himself ahead of his proper turn. It has never happened.
The only possibility of disorder has to do with the doughnuts — how many of them, and of which variety, can be seen waiting plump on the racks as one nears the front of the line.
Say your specific and very keen desire is for devil’s food. Or applesauce. Or jelly-filled. Never mind which. Suffice that it is a selective addiction. And suppose that, of the ones you must have — jelly-filled, for argument’s sake — only six remain on the tray.
You eye the people ahead of you in the queue and seek to divine their preferences. That one surely must be a bear claw type. His workman’s dress suggests a need for weight and volume. The one behind him is a delicate young thing, and very stylish. She would go for color, perhaps the pink-iced. And so forth — trying, in each case, to determine how their wants might impinge on your own satisfaction.
Now you are nearly to the front of the line. It is the lady’s turn ahead of you. She is a lady of a certain girth. No stranger, that one, to this place. Her eye passes casually over the display.
“I’ll need a couple of dozen,” she says.
And the boy behind the counter waits ready with the box.
“It doesn’t much matter,” she tells him. “They’re for the office. Just throw in some long johns and some caramel rolls and some of those sugared ones.”
The boy’s hands fly nimbly among the trays.
“And while you’re at it,” she says with hateful indifference, “you might as well let me have that last half dozen jelly-filled.”
Your knees go loose and a sound can be heard rising in your throat — a sound that is not pretty. You find yourself praying that you will never look out over the dashboard of your car and see that woman, with a box of doughnuts, crossing in your pedestrian lane. But you do not make a scene. Civility in the line is the unspoken rule.
There are other protocols. In the line at the doughnut shop, one does not speak of diets. We have not come there to be reminded of celery and grapefruit and the Scarsdale doctor in his livelier days. Neither does one let oneself be noticed looking too closely at the physiques of one’s companions in the queue.
I have looked surreptitiously, of course. We all have. It is, I have to say, a spectacle worth observing. But mostly when we look at one another it is from the neck up. Our eyes meet, with understanding and not without a sort of tenderness. One sees good nature there, and forgiveness, and, most of all, a surpassing contentment.
Doughnut eaters, as you know if you have ever stood in that line, have beautiful faces.