I think we're close. I think it could happen at any moment. It won't be pretty. Do you sense it? Can you feel it in the air, or is it just me?

Let me back up and explain.

The grocery store circular advertised a new frozen burger that would bring delight to our dinner table and make everyone say, "What a savory reinvention of a traditional classic! It's light and healthy, and it fits today's active lifestyles." It was different, but not too different. If you cook for children, you know that anything outside the pasta-taco-pizza axis gets a suspicious look. What's this? "It's dinner. Eat." There's weird stuff in it. Why can't we have tacos? "Because I had a six-pound bag of salt for lunch, and I'm not in the mood for more."

Went to the store. Didn't find the new life-altering frozen burger. Sought out an employee, and found one stocking the bags of pre-made salad. She was punching them into place with great vigor that suggested some long-standing gripe toward radicchio.

I waited until she was done. Interrupting a stockperson can be like waking a sleepwalker; it can go bad, fast. I remembered a few days earlier at another grocery store, when a stockperson was trying to shelve the frozen soups. Normally $3.99, now 10 for $10. Demand was spectacular. As soon as he'd put in a few slabs of Organic Wild Rice With Cage-Free Chicken Segment someone would say "Excuse me" and take them out. He was a modern Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll the boulder up the hill and then watch it roll down again. A line had formed, and people were waiting for him to put the items in the cooler so they could take them right out. And everyone apologized.

"That's OK," he said. "I'll just stand here all night, waiting."

In Minnesota terms, that was the equivalent of setting his beard on fire and swinging a broadsword while shouting "TONIGHT WE FEAST IN VALHALLA!" We all got the message but we couldn't help it. Cheap soup.

So I hate to interrupt grocery store floor workers because they are, you know, working. When the stocker was done giving the lettuce the business, I said, "Excuse me," and she turned around. If I could sum up her face, it would be:


Gah! I apologized and said, "Never mind, you're busy." But she asked what I wanted, and I said the aforementioned burger thing. She showed me where it was, but her stride and demeanor said the meatless frickin' burgers are in the frickin' meatless cooler, you know, where the meatless stuff is, because it's meatless.

"My mistake. I don't get veggie burgers. If there's any word that should come before burger, it's 'ham.' Ha ha! Sorry!" Yeah, that worked.

I don't blame her at all, and here's why. I think we're close to something unpleasant. We've arrived prematurely at Winter Snapping Point. We are done with this. But it's not done with us.

Minor moments of incivility seem more common. Someone sees you coming as the elevator doors close, and they don't move. They even make eye contact: "Why?" you ask. Because it's 3-below and I'm just dead inside, that's why.

Let me give you the most egregious example. Nice local beverage store, one of those places that has 5,435 local beers, weekend tastings of whiskey strained through the shirt of someone found entombed in a peat bog. (Hmm. Notes of barley, moss, sheep.) An exceedingly genial place. There's a line of five people at the register, so they open another one.

And the guy at the end of the line goes right to the newly opened lane.

The rest of us are just shocked to silence for a moment, because we can't believe it. This isn't New Jersey. There are rules. There is no possible interpretation of queue etiquette that says the last shall be first. Sure, that's a biblical idea, but scholars who've looked at the early Greek texts are pretty sure it doesn't apply to checkout lines. I'll grant a gray area: If you're by the counter, say, second in line, you've committed to your lane, even if you haven't put your stuff on the counter. The person behind you has new lane dibs. But not the next person behind him, and surely not Mr. Caboose.

Even more shocking: People in line started talking about this. Openly. I don't mean someone said, "Hey, c'mon, dude, really?" because I believe the Supreme Court has determined those are fighting words in Nordic-influenced cultures. No, we talked about him in the third person, sarcastically. Well, I guess we know who's got to get his beer before everyone else.

Yeah, some people think the end of the line is the front of the line.

Yeah, some people, totally, have an inverted idea of the line.

As it turned out, I finished my purchase before the antisocial maniac did, and found myself in a position to hold the door open for him. Which, of course, I did, because that just drove the knife in deeper. Yes, I'm being kind. That's how little I think of you.

It hasn't been a bad winter; it's just been a cheap, rote, unfocused, plotless winter. Every year we hit the point when we've just had enough, and it might be dangerous if that happens the third week of February.

As opposed to the fourth, when we usually start to lose it.