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Drawing a line in the coffee grounds

It happens every weekend and bank holiday. It happens the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and sometimes it happens Monday mornings when the weather is unseasonably nice: Out-of-towners go to Irving Farm and destroy the semblance of order we townsfolk hold dear. Seriously, Lime Rock crowd? Seriously, Brooklyn transplants? Obviously the line goes around the little island thing on the left.

On regular mornings, a groggy pre-coffee crowd forms in a beautiful sweeping curve around the left of the island.

On vacation days, everything changes.

Last Saturday, the coffee shop scene was buzzing at a healthy level. I stood in formation dreaming of my Gotham roast when an older woman appeared at my elbow. At my right elbow.

“I think the line is over here,” she offered helpfully.

“No it’s not,” the man ahead of me corrected her.

“Oh,” the woman said, inching toward me to take stock of the young families joining the line stretching toward the entrance. Café consensus was not on her side.

Then this full-grown woman began a complicated process known in middle school cafeterias as “cutting.” She fronted like a soap star as she snuck in line, several places ahead of her rightful spot acting as if she had absentmindedly wandered into the line midway in between me and my large-black-coffee-to-go by accident. But I sensed the malice under that harmless looking 65-year-old exterior.

“What is a line?” I began to question, as my sense of place fell apart. Does it mean anything any more? Will lines become a quaint relic of the past as we mob the counter from both sides? When I tell my progeny about the legend of Honey Boo Boo, must I also shock them with tales from a forgotten era when the line swerved lazily in front of the glass pastry case?

I’d had so many good memories in that line. On mornings I ordered an extra coffee, the baristas knew to ask if it was for my mom or dad. Dunkin’ Donuts employees would probably just assume it’s for my Italian futbol-playing boyfriend. But Irving knows the truth.

When I began a bit of daily pastry binge, it was the barista’s gentle question, “Did you want a donut today?” that made me realize it was time to cut back.

I mean, obviously, you go to the cream and sugar counter after you’ve received your coffee. What kind of world lurks beyond the borders of the town of North East that people would select their sweetener and dairy-fat products before their roast? It’s just unnatural. It’s wrong. It violates all that is good about Millerton. We only have one Main Street. How could we have two coffee lines?

How can we hope to protect our local customs against this assault of foreign disregard? I would like to propose a Defense of Millerton Act, or DOMA, which would prevent those who queued on the right from ordering at all. That’s right. No skinny-grande-mocha-no-whip for you. The staff could just ignore them. Or they could say, “No, your side doesn’t count.” They could occasionally picket with posters reading: You’re left or you’re wrong.

Anderson Cooper could come to report on the movement, but that kind of fame might only bring more right-liners to our modest town. Clearly-labeled signs could indicate the direction of the line for those unsure, with Spanish and Braille translations.

So many awkward dates and various encounters have begun and ended in that line that it just doesn’t feel right to change it, or to allow outsiders to carry on with such disregard. Would a Starbucks-esque velvet rope make the designation more apparent? I pondered one morning on my walk into town. It just feels ... excessive. People should just know that the line goes on the left. That’s just how it is.

I entered the quiet coffee shop, acknowledged the familiar faces and walked up to the cash register to retrieve my morning Joe. I just walked straight up to the counter and pulled out my Irving card and realized I had walked up on the right.

Oh my God. I turned around to see if anyone had noticed. The breakfast club was engaged in their banter. The laptops were writing Faulknerian Facebook statuses. No one seemed to be disturbed at all by my modern approach to the express lane.

That’s when I realized: We’re all a little queer sometimes. And sometimes, that’s the most efficient way to be. I backed away, paper cup in hand, on the same side from which I had entered. My coffee tasted no different.

Kara Panzer is a Millerton native and an undergraduate student at Georgetown University. She is an intern at The New York Times. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Word Riot, Vector Press and Absinthe Revival.