I’m not a patient person. It’s one of the reasons I was such a screw-up early in life, though one could argue I haven’t changed. I do feel I’m able to manage my impatience now, as an adult, and understand the value of working hard toward long-term goals.
But standing in line is still my Achilles heel and forces me into mental tailspins.
No, there are three registers and one line. What if someone makes a new line?
This weekend, at Barnes and Noble, I entered their line at the point the sign says to enter the line. But thanks to the incompetence of B&N line designers at that store, there is also an opening in the line at about the spot where you stand waiting to be called to the next cashier. So, as I walked closer to that point, a woman with two kids and man broke into the line, failing to see the beginning of the line or choosing not to walk that far to enter it.
As I was still waiting for my wife to pick out some new reading glasses, I said “go ahead” to the woman to take the first spot. I thought the man was with her and the kids. Then I noticed that he wasn’t and was on his own with a separate purchase, but had taken advantage of my hospitality to the woman.
And that’s my problem with lines, I find them very stressful because they force me to put my “asshole” hat on, to confront other people who are trying to scam to get ahead or are just plain clueless.
At B&N, I had pent-up anger left over from the day for reasons unknown, and had been a bit snippy with my wife. So I held in my need to have a deep conversation with this man and ask him what he was thinking, lest I blow up, get in fight and knock down rows of gift cards and discounted books, leading to my arrest and subsequent new profession making shivs from old nebulizers.
Lines make me feel like a chump. They are pianos being loaded to an 8th-floor apartment waiting to fall on my head and crush me.
Our next stop was World Market where a couple in their 30s walked up to the cashier ahead of me, but chose the wrong side, which happens there because the layout to pay is confusing. I’ve done it a few times myself.
Now I had a choice. I could have ducked in and been first to the register, having mastered the puzzle, or I could be a nice guy and wait for them to return from the dead-end they’d scurried into. I was a nice guy and let karma guide me by allowing them to come back around and go first.
But I paid a price for my niceness, or what I might argue to be wimpiness in the city of Los Angeles where we all want to kill each other with our cars.
I was punished when I saw the couple carrying a tall stack of dishes, each one having to be individually wrapped by the cashier. Edvard Munch, you were a genius, because The Scream was really about standing in line, wasn’t it?
More pain and suffering when the man tasted the sample chips, and liked them, doing his best to be cool for his lady and the cashier, who I’m positive wondered why anyone would spend a Saturday night at World Market, as she could attest to the torture of the place with its rugs “fresh off the boat” emitting an odd odor that made her dizzy and which she was sure wasn’t good for her health, made worse by the constant temptation of the food from countries she longed to visit but would never, but which she relived her pain by opening up cherry-gummy packages to see how many she could stuff in her mouth at one time – 16 – or eating a blood-orange chocolate bar one piece at a time by hiding it in her apron right next to a picture of her mother, whose house she would live in forever because no one would ever marry her if she didn’t find a way to lose the 35 pounds she had gained since she started sampling different foods from around the world with her five-finger discount.
Who was here first? I don't know. Did he just walk up? Hey, he's not with her. Line-cutting asshole.
So, did this dude pay for the chips when they were ringing up the endless stack of dishes? No, of course not. He decided to buy them after the first transaction was over, bringing my head close to the point of a total blood-swelling explosion. I watched the crumpled bills come out of his pocket one by one and his quest to pay with the exact amount of coins and the clock in my head slowed and I thought about paying for the chips to speed up the process or just smashing him across the face with my plastic bottle of wasabi mustard from Germany. But I didn’t.
When another employee, fresh from her nap in the stock room, opened another register I ran to it like a fire-starved pyro to a warehouse fire.
Then Sunday night we went to dinner in Topanga Canyon. At the restaurant, you stand in line and order dinner and drinks and they bring the food to the table. But you have to go to the bar to pick up your drinks. Madness at the bar, of course. No clearcut line, one bartender and every person for himself.
So I was patient, and a small line formed behind me. But other people came in and wedged forward, so I started moving forward, fighting for position.
After we received our drinks, a loud, attention-seeking woman who came into the line after us, made some passive-aggressive remark about “this guy (me) needing his drinks really bad” and that’s why she hadn’t been helped yet. I told her she came after us, but in the din of the restaurant and her own need for attention – this is, after all, a community of actors and artists – she didn’t hear me and I let it go.
I hate lines because they make deal with the clueless, the scammers, and the idiots in life who cut you off on the freeway then flip you off. They’re the people you can’t reason with, who see life in a way the rest of us can’t. The sky is blue, but they’ll argue it’s raining and believe it, or when caught in a lie will lie to cover the lie.
I like places with numbers. I take one and roam around. I don’t have to worry about jockeying for position or monitoring the line for anyone who tries to cut ahead. I just have to watch the display and listen for my number to be called.
And with numbers I get to go ahead of the people I see waiting with frustrated faces because they just F-1’d their Land Rover through traffic, making over 50 lane changes, to get to the grocery store. And they walked in knowing they were more important than anyone else there, and smarter and wealthier. But with the number system there was no way they could push forward, intimidate anyone or work their way to the front of the line ahead of the guy in dirty shorts and a ratty t-shirt smelling like he only takes showers every four days or so – what the fuck is he doing in a grocery store like this ahead of me, Mr. Range Rover thinks.
And I look back as I place my number on the counter and grin, ordering the last of Tuesday’s night’s delicious and highly sought after beef stew. Sorry about your bad luck, number 13, I say and walk out into a world without order.