Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Line

It's interesting how certain trends hold true without any hint of a good reason. The ones that interest me the most concern bad things which hinder me as I do my best to get the the day productively, happily and in one piece. I won't waste your time with such frivolous complaints as the habit of smoke from a barbeque grill following me around no matter what I do to evade or anything else of the kind. I care too much about you to presume upon the commitment of time you make to my words in such a fashion. No, the thing I'm thinking about is entirely serious and important, and could not be characterized as some mild gripe. It has to do with lines, or queues, as I understand the British call them. Lines aren't pleasant, but that we have them is a mark of lingering civility. That mark is continually tested for me.

Just why is it that so often when I wait in line, the one just ahead of me has some terribly intractable problem? It's always some great crisis, and never one which is easily handled by the clerk. It truly is uncanny the consistency with which this is the case. My sympathies tend to lie with the clerk, who invariably seems to be laboring mightily to explain things to the customer, who is often only ever right on account of the old axiom which says so. That customer is likely to be drawing things out by being obstinate. I think it's likely that the customer lives a live during which they must lie down and take whatever indignity or affront fate puts to them. The one exception is probably when they feel they have the license to aggressively respond to unfavorable judgements at the library or fast food restaurant.

They also frequently are unable to comprehend what the clerk is telling them. This happens far too often, and was the inspiration for this very item you're reading. The state of formal education in this country is indeed deplorable, leaving as it does hapless young men like one I saw recently unable to understand that their ticket is not for the bus they are in line for. He, naturally just ahead of me in line, was entirely unequipped for the task of weighing his options, which were to switch to that bus and change to a different one in El Paso or to wait there until the bus he thought he was getting on showed up. His transparent effort to deflect decision onto the ticket taker by asking what he would do did not fool me.

It is sometimes the clerk. Years ago, when I was working at a summer camp, a friend and I were putting together a little party to watch an NHL Finals game. The only way we could do it involved using pizza to bribe one of the few people at camp with a TV. We were regrettably late getting back for the game with the pizza, and you can imagine the cause. There we waited at the restaurant for an interminable period of time, for the only employee in the place did not know how to use the register. A fuming patron left unsatisfied, leaving us the sole sufferers of the guy's ineptitude. What can one do? That small town did not have very many competing restaurants, and perhaps none offering pizza.

As I said, this matter of fools being ahead in line is an implacable common occurrence. Reading through what I've written, I must admit that it's seldom a matter of life or death, except when one is in line at the emergency room.  There's nothing to be done about it except deal with it as gracefully as possible. That's what I try to do. This way, one can live longer and more happily in the absence of stress or undue prominence resulting from a video of one's violent tirade going viral online as has happened plenty in recent years. If you're trying to have a classy and dignified life of leisure and that happens, give it up.

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