Here I am stuck at the end of the line again. But I do have options. I could pick the line with the whining baby, but room to put my groceries on the conveyor, knowing that there is a good chance that Precious Angel will fling his gooey cookie at my nose. Or I could pick the line with the old lady searching fruitlessly through her purse for, what? A coupon? A credit card? No, the name and phone number of her grandson to give to the pretty little checkout girl! “I know you’d love Larry, he’s really a wonderful boy, just a little shy is all. Of course he tends to stay at home and, you know how the boys are nowadays, always on the computer and video game player and what not. But he’s very smart, he’s got two or three degrees, and I’m sure he’ll have a job soon, he’s got a lot of irons in the fire, but, you know how the job market is nowadays, there just isn’t much out there right now no matter how smart you are, and he doesn’t want to work as a pizza delivery boy or a checkout person. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a checkout person …”
There is a third line I could try, but it’s long, maybe four or five people, and though they each have only a couple of items, they didn’t go in the express line for some reason. Perhaps because the cashier there is having a loud discussion with her manager that involves leakage and shrinkage and several other employees are coming over to watch, so it looks like it’ll be the line with the whiney kid except, darn, I took too long to choose, and now there are three other people in that line. Oh well. I’ll just wait.
The nice thing about the end of the line is that you don’t feel guilty about being privileged. You can finally take a break from that all-encompassing liberal guilt you often feel throughout the day. How come I have Cheetos to eat? How come I have a roof over my head? Why am I so special? What about all those starving children in Africa and all those places that don’t even have high-speed Internet? I should be out there raising money to cure cancer, or stop global warming, or at least replace my leaky water-wasting toilet. I’m sorry, I’d really like to fix the whole world, but right now I’m busy waiting at the end of this line.
So I’m not one of the privileged few who get to go to the First Class express line. I’m not a power-broker, Gold Card elitist who has someone to stand in line for them, and then jumps right to the front with their cart, or their carry-on, or their hot date. No, I’m just one of the great unwashed masses who has to patiently wait my turn to pay for my soap.
That’s what’s great about a democracy where everyone is created equal. You go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and you take a number and wait your turn just like everybody else. And I am the lowest of the low. If we were in India, I would be one of the Untouchables. But here I’m just the guy who everybody looks back at to see how far they’ve moved since they started waiting.
Or maybe I’m at the bank and for some horrible reason can’t use the ATM so I have to go inside to the one teller who hasn’t been laid off, possibly because of seniority, or her close relationship with the Bank President, but at any rate she’s been there forever, and she takes forever to get anything done. Naturally, everyone who’s waiting in line has some strange, special need. They’re not just depositing a check or withdrawing some cash, no, they could have done that at the ATM. They’re doing weird things like writing money orders to China, or counting out all the change from their dresser to try to pay the mortgage. Of course it’s hot in here, and there isn’t even Muzak anymore; that and the air-conditioning went in the budget cuts of ’06, and now we’re down to … no, not even any free mints. Heck, they don’t even have a pen on a chain to use anymore, because apparently too many people were snipping the chain and taking it. Yeah, forget about free toasters or transistor radios if you join their Christmas Club, now they even charge a fee to tell you how much money you have left in your account.
This is probably going to take a while, but I don’t mind. The end of the line is a nice place to think. It’s quiet in here. This is one of the quietest places in the world nowadays. Because of the vault or their security system you can’t get cell phone reception, and people have totally forgotten how to make small talk, so there is no conversation. Everybody just stares intently at the back of the head of the person in front of them and overhears the conversation at the front of the line, and dreams that someday they may get a chance to make their own small request.
“Could I get change for the parking meter?”