It seems obvious — because it is — but the beginning is the very best place to start telling a pair of sad, ridiculous and ultimately unrelated tales that illustrate the unruly, impolite times in which we now reside.

The first involves a fist fight outside a grocery store caused by disagreement over safe social distancing.

The set-to was such that it required the intervention of the local constabulary. Unfortunate clerks were so taken aback that, more than a week later when cooler heads surely have prevailed, the incident remains a topic of discussion.

From safely behind Plexiglas and proper PPE, of course.

The second, no less absurd, happened Tuesday, culminating in a cloudburst of invective and blasphemy prompted by … a customer adjudged to be taking too long in a drive-thru window.

Frayed nerves, impatience, unkind hearts crashed headlong into lives upended by the unrelenting pandemic of COVID-19.

Somewhere, Jesus weeps.

‘Grown-ups’

The first story trickled in via the grapevine. The initial re-telling, with a few details akimbo, was relayed via a FOAF — the friend-of-a-friend hearsay standard that too many people these days count as gospel.

However, as the gist was confirmed by Sheriff J.D. Hartman of Davie County, an experienced lawman who knows stupid when he hears it, the story became another sad-sack sign of the times.

The incident unfolded this way:

At 6:43 p.m. on April 25, Davie County sheriff’s deputies were summoned to a Food Lion on U.S. 158 in Bermuda Run to investigate a disturbance.

Two men who apparently knew one another began to argue about social distancing and whether wearing masks — as recommended by scientists, doctors and anyone who gives a fig about the physical well-being of his (or her) fellow human beings — was good practice.

During what must have been a heated, if not particularly erudite debate, one fellow informed the other that he could not place his items on the conveyor until he was done using it.

That caused some consternation. One of the men — the sheriff didn’t specify which, but the guess here is the unmasked guy who couldn’t wait his socially distanced turn — copped an attitude that resulted in a scuffle in the parking lot.

Grown-up men, presumably.

A third man got involved but flew the coop, presumably when informed that constables were en route. Both participants were interviewed, declined invitation to press charges and waved off medical attention.

The guess here is that perhaps trained law enforcement officers, skilled in such negotiations, helped the combatants to realize the error of their ways. Coming to blows over wearing a mask or failure to have the common decency to stand 6 feet back if asked really isn’t that much to ask.

Long lines, short tempers

The second sign of the nearing apocalypse happened Tuesday just before 3:30 p.m. in a drive-thru line at the Stratford Road branch of the State Employees Credit Union, relayed by a law student, an eyeball witness trained in the keen observation of human behavior.

The bank lobby was closed, per stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations issued by Gov. Roy Cooper.

However, as many of us know all too well, such arrangements place a strain on tellers and those forced to wait in lines.

Instead of the normal, quickie bank activity common to drive-thru service — withdrawals or single deposits — all sorts of transactions were taking place. A longer than average wait.

Multiple lanes were lined three and four vehicles deep.

In one, a woman grown weary of waiting for service from an overworked teller, found herself the subject of verbal abuse from a gentleman behind her.

She returned fire, in biblically prohibited terms, and a screaming match about entitlement ensued.

“I didn’t want to look too hard to get the lady’s wrath on me,” the witness said. “But yeah, it was uncomfortable.”

There is a common lesson in these stories that we all could hear once again.

It’s unfortunate, but true, that despite platitudes exhorting us that “we’re all in this together,” we’re really not. Some have it better than others; some have far less economic pressure and greater security.

With each lost job, each day cooped up at home, nerves fray and divisions on how to best proceed sharpen.

You can’t know what someone else is going through. Patience, people, patience.

ssexton@wsjournal.com

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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