Check Out This Drama: Class Warfare in Lane 2

If the Smithsonian Institution, which is apparently mounting an ambitious exhibition on New York City, really wants to give museum-goers a slice of life in the Big Apple-not just its Gershwin-style grandeur, but also its bitterness and barely repressed rage-there’s probably no better place to start than the average supermarket-checkout line, as a June 14 incident at the D’Agostino on York Avenue and 80th Street suggests.

According to an eyewitness standing at 6 p.m. on the inappropriately named “Express Lane,” a couple of female customers one lane over-one of them in her 50′s, well-groomed and well-dressed with black hair, the other perhaps a decade younger, but with gray hair and a decided lack of fashion sense-got into a dispute that turned ugly, even by New York’s expansive standards.

“All of a sudden these two women were exchanging barbs, and they got louder and louder,” recalled Heidi Reinholdt, who works as a publicist when she is not stuck in supermarket-checkout lines. Ms. Reinholdt isn’t certain what sparked the dispute, but suspects it had something to do with the pace at which the younger, gray-haired woman was paying for her purchases-a typical hot-button issue among Type-A Manhattanites.

“The black-haired one was complaining how the other one was holding up the line, and she and everybody else had places to be,” Ms. Reinholdt said.

The obvious implication was that the woman who was holding up the line could afford to take her sweet time because her life was a vast wasteland of missed opportunities, as opposed to those behind her, whose days were chock-filled with meaning, social obligations, children and grandchildren, subscriptions to the Met, weekend homes in the Hamptons, etc.

However, despite her unkempt appearance, the younger woman was not without weapons of her own.

“If you’re in such a big hurry,” she rebutted, “why are you doing the shopping?”-suggesting, of course, that the truly wealthy have housekeepers to do their dirty work.

From there the dispute quickly devolved into class warfare and insults over each other’s appearance.

“They segued into comparing themselves to each other,” Ms. Reinholdt reported. “You’re an awful, terrible person,” the more elegant of the two ladies told the other.

“So are you,” her antagonist replied. “Why don’t you look in the mirror?”

“I’d rather look at myself in the mirror than you any day,” the fashion plate sniffed.

“What,” the other woman shot back, “you think you’re good-looking?”

The last thing Ms. Reinholdt says she heard before the gray-haired woman departed were the words, “Take this outside.” Then the slow-moving woman walked away-but only as far as the supermarket’s vestibule, where she lay in wait for her adversary, who followed shortly.

“The black-haired woman was trying to walk out the door, and the trailer trash reached out and socked her,” the publicist said. “People around me were buzzing, ‘Oh my God! She just hit her!’ There was a lot of yelling and commotion, and a lot of D’Agostino employees ran over. I saw the trailer trash being restrained by the D’Agostino manager.”

Ms. Reinholdt said the victim’s reaction appeared to be one of humor. “The black-haired one seemed to think it was funny,” she said. “She was looking taken aback.”

The last the publicist saw of the victim, she was being escorted around the block by an employee, though she suspects he was merely trying to prevent any further incident between the two women.

In typical New York fashion, Ms. Reinholdt regarded the incident not as one more shocking example of man’s-or rather, woman’s-inhumanity to woman, but as a welcome diversion.

“It made waiting in the world’s slowest express lane all the more enjoyable,” she mused.

Not surprisingly, a D’Agostino manager contacted later claimed ignorance of the entire incident. “I don’t know nothing about that,” he averred.